How Scammers Can Steal Your Mail—and Your Identity

Change of address scams are on the rise. Here’s how to fight back.

A row of mailboxes are lined up on a wooden post

Between 2020 and 2021, reports of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) increased 150 percent. And believe it or not, paper mail may be a factor. From March 2020 through February 2021, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service received 40,727 mail fraud complaints and 299,020 mail theft complaints.

In an age where almost every service has gone electronic and/or wireless, paper mail—also called “snail mail”—is often dismissed as an afterthought. Unfortunately, scammers are taking advantage of this oversight to perpetrate a staggeringly simple form of fraud: change of address scams.

What are change of address scams?

A change of address scam is exactly what it sounds like. The fraudster reaches out to the United States Postal Service (USPS), either online or at their local post office, and completes a change of address (COA) form in the victim’s name. The only information needed to do so is a name, the current address, and a forged signature. If requested online, an email address and credit card are also required. At present, no proof of identity is required for either method of change request. Once approved, the victim’s mail will be rerouted to the address provided by the scammer.

Although the USPS sends an address-change confirmation to both your address and the forwarding address (and to the email provided in the online request), the term “confirmation” is a bit of a misnomer. The USPS will automatically begin rerouting your mail unless you reach out with an objection. The address-change confirmation is easy to mistake for junk mail and, in the case of an online request, could be routed to an email that isn’t yours. The scammers may even put a hold on your mail delivery so you are delayed in getting the confirmation. 

What could a scammer do if they had access to your mail? 

Once they have access to your personal mail, scammers might:

  • Steal your bank routing information.
  • Open new accounts (loans, bank accounts, etc.) in your name.
  • Access your medical information to commit health care fraud.
  • Use your identity to commit benefits fraud.
  • Steal personal checks and change the payee name.

Signs That Your Mail May Have Been Illegally Rerouted

There are several signs that may indicate your mail has been illegally rerouted, including:

  • You stop receiving mail addressed to you by name (letters addressed to “occupant” or “resident” don’t count, as they continue being sent even after the change of address is completed).
  • You receive an address-change confirmation from the USPS that you did not request.
  • You are contacted about a new bank account, loan, or credit card that you didn’t open.

How to Prevent Address Change Fraud

Fortunately, there are ways you can help to prevent address change fraud.

  • Go paperless: When bills and notices (especially from your bank or health care provider) are sent to you by mail, scammers may intercept it. If you opt for paperless notifications, you substantially reduce the chance of identity theft.
  • Dispose of paper mail properly: Don’t leave mail sitting in the mailbox, on your desk, or in the trash bin. Make sure you shred sensitive mail.
  • Check your credit report regularly: Routinely check your credit rating, review credit card bills for unexplained activity, and put a freeze on your credit report to prevent anyone from opening up new accounts in your name.
  • Set up monitoring: For an extra layer of protection, set up credit report monitoring and USPS change of address monitoring.

How to Respond If You’re the Victim of Mail Fraud

No one expects to be the victim of mail fraud, but if it happens, reach out to the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the FTC to report the crime.