DENVER — When Steve Shelley was searching his mailbox for his TABOR refund check, the Denver resident received a letter he wasn't expecting — a change of address validation from the U.S. Postal Service.
"I have no plans to move to Ohio," said Shelley, who immediately notified the USPS of the fraud. "I've never seen this address before."
Documents show someone filed a temporary change of address form in his name to an address in Columbus, Ohio, and the Postal Service immediately started forwarding Shelley's mail.
"So for five or six days, my mail was being forwarded before I even got the validation," he said.
Shelley said it took more than two weeks and a call from Contact Denver7 to start receiving his mail again.
An April 2022 report from the USPS Office of Inspector General shows change of address fraud increased 167% from 2020 to 2021, and that the USPS has not implemented effective identity verification controls, even though millions of dollars have been paid for those services.
Because of recent TABOR refund checks, Shelley believes that Coloradans may be particularly at risk, and law enforcement is aware of the concern.
"It's no surprise to postal inspectors that scammers would try and attempt this right now with the influx of the TABOR checks going into the mail," said Eric Manuel, a postal inspector with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the federal law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service.
Manuel said this type of fraud is very rare. To put it in context, nearly 37 million change of address requests were processed in 2019. Manuel said that the rate of suspicious transactions reported by customers was less than one-tenth of one percent, and many of the complaints were determined not to be related to fraud. A number of those complaints could be traced to domestic or other disputes between families and friends, who, as a result of their relationship, have access to information which allows one to forward mail.
"The mail is still the most secure way to send your personal information," said Manuel. "Certainly, when these issues get highlighted, we are concerned about that because we have that expectation of privacy in our mail. I think this case highlights an opportunity for the Postal Inspection Service to point out some issues with the change of address system."
In the meantime, Shelley was able to retrieve his TABOR refund check from his post office before it was forwarded, and his mail resumed service. But he also learned that a fraudulent bank account had been opened in his name. He believes it was opened by the fraudsters to deposit his tax rebate check.
"This system does not work," said Shelley. "They need a verification process, whether it's a photo of your driver's license, or credit card, or something that verifies that I am who I say am and I want my address changed."
To protect yourself from mail theft:
- Sign up for the free informed delivery service through the USPS.
- Watch for change of address validation cards
- If there is fraud, directly notify the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. Mail theft is punishable by five years in federal prison, and bank fraud can mean up to 30 years.