LARGO, Fla.--With so many identity thieves plying their trade on the internet, it’s easy to forget that some are still using old school tactics to try to ruin your credit.
Case in point: Frank Russell of Largo, Fla. After not receiving any mail for days, he asked his postal carrier about it and discovered that someone had filled out a change of address form in his name. When he looked into it further, Russell found out his mail was being sent to an address in Pompano Beach.
Then the credit card applications started rolling in.
“We’ve had, right now the count is up to nine credit card companies that these people applied for credit cards in my name,” said Russell. “They went all the way from Nordstrom to Sears to Bank of America, Cabela’s in Nebraska, Chase, I don’t remember what the other ones are.”
The U.S. Postal Service has a system in place that’s supposed to prevent a change like this from happening, but the key notification letter that’s essential to that process never got delivered to Russell.
“We never got any notification whatsoever, and we understand that they’re supposed to notify the address that has been changed of the change. Never got anything,” he said. “You don’t have to prove who you are just to submit a change of address and I find that very hard to fathom that they can just go ahead and change someone’s address without any proof of who the person is.”
Here is the response the USPS sent to WTSP when they asked them about this story:
While the Postal Service does not require ID to submit a change-of-address (COA) order we do send a Move Validation Letter (MVL) to the address the customer is moving from to let them know we have received their request / order to forward their mail. If the customer did not submit an order to have their mail forwarded, then the letter directs them to contact the Postal Service. When the Postal Service is contacted, the necessary action is taken to discontinue the mail forwarding.
There is a five day delay before forwarding begins. This delay gives time for the MVL to reach the old address before the mail is forwarded. The MVL itself is not forwarded and is addressed using exceptional addressing:
Or Current Resident
If a customer detects a false change of address has been filed, the customer should contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455.
Fortunately for Russell, he had credit protection services in place and was notified by creditors that someone was trying to apply in his name. But not everyone finds out about red flags on their credit in time to react, which is why monitoring your credit is the simplest way to protect yourself.
“The bottom line is: your identity is going to be stolen, so you just need to protect yourself,” said Tampa-based consumer protection attorney Billy Howard. “All the information about somebody, including their address, telephone number, Social Security number, that’s all out there for the public. That’s the first time that I’ve heard somebody utilizing a change of address to get the information that they got, but it’s all the same thing.”
Howard says the best way to protect yourself is to know what’s in your credit report and to keep a close eye on any changes to your credit score – all of which, he says, you can do for free.
“Getting your credit report is free. You do not have to pay for it,” said Howard. “They will send you, for free, a nice big credit report with graphs and colors, it’s great. They like to charge you because, guess what? They’re in the business of making money, and they like to screw consumers just like banks do, but federal law requires them to provide a free credit report.”
“There’s a lot of pitches that you need to pay these people $15 a month to monitor your credit,” he added. “Well, guess what? It’s a scam. You can monitor your own credit for free.”
There are a number of apps for your phone that will, for free, monitor your credit score and send you a notification any time there’s a hit on your credit report.
“If you don’t get any mail within a couple days, you don’t get normal mail, you need to check up and find out if you’ve been hacked,” said Russell. “The basic thing is: take care, be on guard, and if you don’t get mail for a while there could be a good reason.”
The man who had his ID stolen had Lifelock. It's a paid service that alerted him after the crooks opened credit, or tried to open credit, in his name.
How to Avoid Being a Victim:
First, you can get a credit freeze. It's for 90 days. It's free. And if someone tries to open up credit, they're denied. You go to one of the three bureaus Experian, Trans Union or Equifax to do this.
Second, checking your credit report is free and the easiest way to figure out if someone has stolen your identity and is using credit in your name. To get the most out of your free credit reports, space them out. Get your free Experian report now, four months from now get the freebie from Equifax and four months from then get the report from Trans Union.
The best way to make sure you’re getting a FREE credit report is to go through Annual Credit Report.