You never moved, but your mail did: Is the Post Office protecting customers from fraud?

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by Scott Noll / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on July 5, 2012 at 10:08 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 2 at 5:37 PM

HOUSTON --  Imagine crooks stealing your identity with the help of the government.  It may sound incredible, but the KHOU 11 News I-Team has uncovered a hole in the federal system that the U.S. Postal Service has known about for years, but done nothing to fix.

It’s a breakdown that is devastating consumers.

It starts with a simple change of address card.  Thieves fill it out and send it to the post office.  By the time unsuspecting victims notice anything is wrong, the criminal are on a spending spree.

“I thought ‘this is absurd,” recalled Diane Do.  “I haven’t moved.”

Yet for several days Do’s mailbox was empty.  What started as confusion, ended in fear and anger.

“I have no idea who’s doing this,” said Do, staring at a stack of mail marked with yellow change-of-address stickers.  They show the path the letters have taken from Houston, to California and back.

But Do has never lived in Westminster, California, and said she doesn’t know anyone in the Los Angeles suburb either.  Instead, the post office confirms crooks filed a fraudulent change of address order in Do’s name. 

It diverted new mail that would have alerted her that someone opened several lines of credit in her name.

Do could only shake her head in disbelief as she read letters from at least three banks discussing her new credit cards.

“It was a hole in the post office system that allows this to continually happen,” said Do.

That’s because this wasn’t the first time it happened to the Houston optometrist.  In fact, she says it’s the third time in four years that someone fraudulently had her mail sent to the same Westminster, California home.

Each time Do said she complained to the post office.

“First, I’m a victim of the criminal and then, second, I’m a victim of the postal system because they allow it to happen,” explained Do.

“I can’t answer why the mail continued to be sent to Westminster,” admitted Terry Donnelly, Postal Inspector in Charge for the Houston Division. 

While Donnelly couldn’t explain why the government keeps dropping the ball in Do’s case, he admitted it’s something that concerns him. 

“Absolutely, if there is a missing link in the system or the chain,” he said.

Missing links like the problems found in a 2008 report from the Office of the Inspector General looking at identity theft and the change of address process.  Inspectors found that all a crook has to do is fill out a change of address order, and drop it in the mail to fraudulently divert a victim’s mail.  Nowhere in that process does anyone check the sender’s identification, or even force the crook to walk into a post office.

“The post office made the decision that they’re trying to make some of the logistics of a move a little easier on the customer,” explained Garrett.  He admitted those same logistics make it easier on crooks.

The Inspector General’s Report also found the postal service processed change of address orders without the required signature on the form, and did the same when the customer’s name did not match the signature on the card.

They are holes in the system that leave consumers, like Do, at the mercy of identity thieves.

“It’s a Pennsylvania renewal application,” said Do as she opened a letter addressed to her.  “It’s for a Honda that has license plates I don’t even know,” she said in disbelief. “It’s not a car I own.”

The post office said whenever it gets a request to change a mailing address, it sends out verification letters to both the old and new addresses to safeguard customers against fraud.  But in Do’s cases, she says she never received the letters.  Postal inspectors are trying to find out why that happened.

Inspectors stress that if you do receive a change of address letter in the mail, and you aren’t moving, you should take that notice seriously, and call your post office right away to report it.

A woman living in the Westminster, California house where Do’s mail was sent denied having anything to do with the change of address.  She says letters addressed to Do began arriving three months ago, and continue to pile up.

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