RELEASE: Gottheimer Combats “Change of Address” Fraud and Identity Theft

Mar 27, 2023
Press

Criminals fraudulently redirecting victims’ mail, stealing bank statements and Social Security numbers, opening credit cards

Above: Gottheimer with a North Jersey victim of “change of address” fraud outside the Paramus Post Office on East Midland Avenue.

PARAMUS, NJ — Today, March 27, 2023, U.S. Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) announced new action to combat the shocking surge in “change of address” fraud, including calling for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to strengthen authentication processes and require two-step verification if you change your address, and for the USPS Inspector General and the Postal Inspection Service to fully investigate “change of address” fraud and identity theft and prevent it from happening to anyone else.

Change of address fraud:

  • “Change of address” fraud is identity theft that occurs when a criminal fraudulently changes a victim’s address with the Postal Service, redirecting the victim’s mail to a new location without their knowledge or consent. 
  • Recent data shows that there has been a 167% increase in the number of fraudulent changes of address performed. Cases of “change of address” fraud and attempted identity theft jumped from 8,857 cases in 2020 to 23,606 cases in 2021.
  • “Change of address” fraud comes with significant consequences, from financial losses to missed bills and documents and delayed medication delivery.

Action Gottheimer announced today to combat “change of address” fraud:

  • Bipartisan push for answers and stronger address change authentication processes from U.S. Postmaster General DeJoy: Gottheimer is sending a bipartisan letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding answers on how DeJoy is planning to strengthen authentication processes, increase public awareness, and implement systems to protect Americans, prevent “change of address” fraud, and uphold the integrity of the USPS.
    • Gottheimer is calling for additional “change of address” verification systems, including a government ID requirement, a two-factor authentication, and the ability to freeze any address change requests through the Postal Service.
  • Urging the U.S. Postal Service Inspector General to investigate and provide answers: Gottheimer is calling on the Inspector General to move into hyper drive on investigating “change of address” fraud and identity theft, to prevent this from happening to anyone else.
  • Pushing the ​​Postal Inspection Service to solve current fraud cases: Gottheimer is calling on the Postal Inspection Service — the law enforcement arm of USPS — to redouble their efforts to get to the bottom of the many open cases of “change of address” and mail fraud. Families deserve to know that the Postal Service is doing everything they can to ensure their mail, checks, bank info, veterans benefits, tax returns, Social Security checks, and life-saving medications are safe from thieves. 

Gottheimer was joined today at the Paramus Post Office on East Midland Avenue by a 35-year-long Paramus resident whose family’s address was changed fraudulently to an address in Philadelphia, resulting in criminals receiving their bills, bank statements, and Social Security numbers.

“Change of address fraud is costing our families millions of dollars and it’s costing trust in their local post office. Unfortunately, because of an egregious lack of oversight and action at the post office, far too many residents have to worry that they could be the next victim of change of address fraud. This criminal tactic is being used across the country and it’s resulting in credit cards, bank info, Social Security numbers, money, and sensitive personal information in the hands of bad actors seeking to steal from our families. A criminal could literally use the information they receive from your mail to open a new checking or savings account in your name,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5). “I’m calling for the Postal Service to immediately strengthen the authentication processes and require much stricter verification if you change your address, and for the Inspector General and the Postal Inspection Service to fully investigate this change of address fraud and identity theft and prevent it from happening to anyone else.”

Gottheimer was also joined today by Bergen County Commissioners Dr. Joan Voss and Mary Amoroso.

Video of the announcement can be found here.

Below: Gottheimer with a North Jersey victim of “change of address” fraud outside the Paramus Post Office on East Midland Avenue.

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Gottheimer’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Alyse for joining us and sharing your story. Speaking out today will make a real difference for others. I’m sorry for all that you’ve been through, but thank you for calling us, please know that your words will make a difference.   

After a shocking surge in “change of address” fraud here in Jersey and across our country, we’re here this morning, outside the Paramus Post Office on East Midland Avenue, to demand action and answers from the United States Postal Service. Today, as I’ll detail more in a minute, I’m calling for the Postal Service to immediately strengthen the authentication processes and require much stricter verification if you change your address, and for the Inspector General and the Postal Inspection Service to fully investigate this “change of address” fraud and identity theft and prevent it from happening to anyone else.

Change of address fraud is a type of identity theft and it occurs when a criminal fraudulently changes a victim’s address with the Postal Service, redirecting their mail to a new location without their knowledge or consent.

Tens of thousands of Americans have been in the bullseye of change of address fraud, resulting in millions of dollars of identity theft, bank, check, and credit card theft, compromised Social Security numbers and personal identifiable information, and the like. 

According to the most recent USPS Office of Inspector General’s report, there was a 167 percent increase in the number of fraudulent changes of address performed. The report said cases of change of address fraud and attempted identity theft jumped from nearly 9,000 cases in 2020 to more than 23,000 reports of fraud in 2021. That is a massive increase.

It’s despicable, it’s widespread, and it’s growing like fungus. 

The heart of the problem is just how easy it is to commit change of address mail fraud and identity theft.

Here’s how criminals are stealing identities and money through this fraud magnet.

We’ve all moved before. We’ve all had to fill out one of those change of address forms through the Post Office, so that your mail will get forwarded to your new address. It’s a fairly simple process that can be done in person or online. If it’s done in person, your local post office, like the one behind me, is supposed to ask you to show ID to verify that it’s actually you. You obviously don’t want someone else intentionally getting your mail. 

Unfortunately, there’s a huge hole in the system.  

The first hole: if you go to the local branch, as I said, they’re supposed to check your ID when you hand in the change of address form. But, it’s clear that doesn’t always happen. When we moved, and recently changed the address of our congressional office here in Jersey, we weren’t asked to show identification in person – not by anyone – when we submitted the form. I have deep respect for our postal workers. They do a phenomenal job. But, on the management side, we need to make sure there are tighter processes in place to prevent this type of fraud. 

The biggest hole in the system, and where most of the change of address fraud is occurring, is online. That’s where most people submit these forms – and the verification process, if you want to call it that, is far too lax. So, that’s the real magnet and hotbed for criminal activity. Why? There is no requirement to submit any identification when you change your address online. Zero. You can pretend to be whoever you want and change whatever address you want. Of course, that’s where the fraud and identity theft occurs. 

You do have to pay a dollar fee by credit card when you use the online change of address portal. And the United States Post Office claims that’s good enough to verify your identity and secure enough. But, they have no idea if that credit card actually belongs to the person living at the address being changed. Oh, and the post office also sends you a postcard to your home when this form is filled out. The problem with that? It could take weeks to get to you, if it gets to you at all. The change of address – the mail forwarding – and the potential mail fraud – starts before you even get that postcard in the mail. 

What’s even more shocking is that the latest report from the Postal Service Inspector General flagged this issue and said the change of address website had “ineffective identity verification controls.” Ready for this? The Postal Service responded to their own Inspector General claiming that their change of address fraud protections are “sufficient.” Really? Tell that to the tens of thousands of people like Alyse, who you just heard from, a 35-year-long resident of Paramus, and her husband, who had their address changed fraudulently. She learned that this was going on because she began to get calls about unpaid bills — bills she never received in the mail. All of her addresses on file from her car leasing company to her credit card had been changed to an address in Philadelphia.  

Alyse and her husband never received any postcard that their address had been changed. This is a system the Postal Service says they have in place to inform residents of a change in their address. But clearly it didn’t work.

Then the post office told them it would take two weeks to reverse the change of address. So, for weeks, criminals received their bills, bank statements, and Social Security numbers.

Throughout all of this, the post office employees and supervisors frequently didn’t answer their calls.

Months later, someone tried to open a credit card in her name, and someone had withdrawn money from her bank accounts. I would bet that this could be a result of the change of address fraud.

My office works on cases like Alyse’s to get through to the Postal Inspection Service. One constituent here in North Jersey had someone change her mailing address three times in two weeks before they discovered what was happening. These criminals stole their personal information and opened a twenty-thousand-dollar credit card in her name. Can you imagine what they’ve been through? 

That official Inspector General report also mentioned that, as of 2021, the USPS did not have sufficient online security on its “Moversguide,” and online forms made up 56 percent of the nearly 36 million change of address requests across the nation in 2021.

I don’t know how the Postal Service can possibly believe that they have sufficient protections in place with these numbers of fraud issues. Change of address fraud is costing our families millions of dollars and it’s costing trust in their local post office. Unfortunately, because of an egregious lack of oversight and action at the post office, far too many residents have to worry that they could be the next victim of change of address fraud.

This criminal tactic is being used across the country and it’s resulting in credit cards, bank info, Social Security numbers, money, and sensitive personal information in the hands of bad actors seeking to steal from our families. A criminal could literally use the information they receive from your mail to open a new checking or savings account in your name.

Despite my calls to postal officials and the Office of the Inspector General, we still haven’t received any clear answers about what action is being taken. On behalf of the victims, the local officials, and families here in North Jersey and across the country, I’m sick and tired of the inaction. We deserve answers. 

If the Postal Service can’t get things right, then how in the world can we rely on them to properly handle billions of pieces of mail across the country?

It’s time for serious action from the Postal Service. 

That’s why, this morning, I’m announcing new concrete steps to get to the bottom of the change of address fraud magnet that criminals are taking advantage of through the Postal Service. 

First, this week, I am sending a bipartisan letter to U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy demanding answers on how he is planning to strengthen authentication processes, increase public awareness, and implement systems to protect constituents, prevent change of address fraud, and uphold the integrity of the USPS. 

The Postal Service must put additional verification systems in place when it comes to changing an address online. I believe that a government ID must be required in addition to a credit card. Just like when you open a bank account online, you need to provide your ID — it should be the same for changing an address at the post office. 

They should also put a type of  two-factor authentication in place to process this change. That’s how you do it online. When you file to change your address, before they actually go ahead, you should have to receive a notice at home that you confirm. 

Also, the same way you can put a freeze on your credit reports, so that criminals can’t open new credit cards under your name, you should be able to put a freeze on any address change requests through the Postal Service. Right now, they only allow six month freezes for victims of fraud. That makes no sense. Anyone should be able to freeze their change of address for as long as they want.  

Second, I’m calling on the Inspector General to move into hyper drive on investigating this fraud and identity theft, to prevent this from happening to anyone else. We know how these crimes are happening, but what is being done to prevent it from happening again? We need answers now. Time is up.

Third and finally, I’m calling on the Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of USPS, to redouble their efforts to get to the bottom of the many open cases of change of address and mail fraud.

Our families deserve answers, and they deserve to know that the Postal Service is doing everything they can to ensure their mail, checks, bank info, veterans benefits, tax returns, Social Security checks, and life-saving medications are safe from thieves. 

I want to thank everyone here for joining me today. 

This vital service must be corrected — our families, small businesses, seniors, veterans all rely on the Postal Service. And there is nothing partisan about this. 

If we work together, here in the greatest country in the world, I know that we will come out stronger than ever and our best days will always be ahead of us.

Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless these United States of America.

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