Thursday, August 18, 2005

Identity theft made far too easy

One of the worst feelings you can have is to suspect that someone – a stranger or even a family member – is screwing with you and has stolen YOUR identity in order to ruin your life. It's a silent attacker because you could be kept in the dark for days (or weeks) before unearthing something that's a crime being committed against you.
This type of theft can (and DOES) happen in dozens of ways – by stealing credit card information you openly provide, by stealing banking and credit files that should be better guarded by agencies and companies and by using many surreptitious methods that get publicized by the news media almost daily. A little vigilance on your part can stop many (but not all) efforts to have strangers take advantage of you.
It should not, however, happen with the full assistance of the federal government and one of its largest, and most public but fucked up, entities – the United States Postal Service. But that’s exactly what happened to my family and others need to be warned.
After three years of living in our home, my wife’s sister moved out to another community (thank God!). In doing so, she sent a change of address card to the local U.S. Postal Service center (Plano’s Coit Station for our zip code). The woman uses a hyphenated last name, employing her maiden name and married moniker; something apparently more prevalent these days than in the past.
On the change of address form, she mistakenly marked “Family Forward” instead of “Individual,” meaning, in postal terms, ANYONE with EITHER of those last names would have their mail forwarded to a new address effective at the prescribed date. Upon closer examination of the form, the boxes are printed in barely readable skin tones. It seems to be a far too easy of a mistake to make for something so important. If your son or daughter is headed, say, to Texas Tech and makes the same mistake, all your mail is going to go to Lubbock. Chew on THAT cud for a moment!
You can send this document to the postal service without benefit of identification or any legal documentation (driver’s license, etc.) stating you are who you say you are. A total stranger can forge any kind of signature and then have that person’s – or family’s – mail sent to a new (and undisclosed) location.
Our suspicion was only alerted when we failed to receive any kind of mail (first class, packages, junk) at our home for two consecutive days. When I first contacted USPS-Coit Station, I was told that there was nothing to indicate any interruption of service. It was just an anomaly and the supervisor would check with the carrier. The next day, mail arrived and we thought nothing of it.
Until we took a closer look. The mail was only addressed in my name; nothing was delivered to my wife, who still employs her family name – the same name that is included in the hyphenated name used by her sister. A second call to Coit Station offered the ugly truth – all mail with that name, regardless of who is was for ­– was being re-directed to a new address. It didn’t matter that it was wrong; the form for “Family Forward” had been submitted and accepted.
My wife was forced to complete a second form (Form 3546) that stops the forwarding process, but she was told it would be a week or so until the ship was righted. Until that time, she would not know which credit card bill, which package of prescription medication or which correspondence was floating aimlessly in the postal system, waiting for proper clearance to land. Oddly enough, no one at the Coit Station in Plano asked for her identification and she never signed that Form 3546 because none was required.
And that hasn’t solved the problem. Apparently Form 3546 never made it into the fucking USPS computer system and the incorrect status quo remains. Seems as if the form …. got lost in the mail. What assholes!
Can someone explain how this can happen to people? How can any schmuck off the street send a card – without proper identification – and steal your mail, fuck up your credit and your very life and yet it has the full blessing of the U.S. government and postal service?
The USPS can lamely apologize all its wants and make empty claims about long-standing regulations, but something needs to be done to prevent what happened to us from reoccurring again. No one - NO ONE - should be able to anonymously seek forwarding of mail without first producing legal identification – in person – to a postal official (sorry, your Sam’s Club card won’t do, putzhead). You can’t change your address of your driver’s license by mail; the same standard should apply for your mail.
And second, any forwarding of mail should be for individuals ONLY. Sorry for the inconvenience, but if you get mail for four or 40 family members, you need to send an individual change for each individual member. Simply permitting a blanket movement of mail by last name only fails to allow for the very situation I described.
It’s tough enough to fight all the dickheads out there doing their dead level best to scam you and I out of our hard-earned life.
We shouldn’t have to worry about the post office, too. Damn!
Chuck Bloom can be reached at

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