Unwanted mailing address change triggers scam alert

 

CAMDEN — She unplugged her computer roughly two years ago to pay other bills.

Robin L. Barilla says she hasn’t been online since.

That’s why she’s baffled by a recent change of address for her mail processed via the Internet.

The saga began in early September when Ms. Barilla realized she hadn’t received mail for several days, She went to the Camden post office to see what the holdup was.

Surprisingly, she learned her mailing address was changed to a location in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 30 through an online form.

“They said a lot of people do it for the convenience,” Ms. Barilla said of online transactions.

Alarmed, Ms. Barilla contacted the postal inspector to investigate what had happened.

The Postal Service also recommended Ms. Barilla call the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft hotline for assistance.

Mail service has resumed to her address of 16 years.

“I’m OK for now,” she said.

As of Thursday, though, Ms. Barilla said the source of the changed address had not been determined.

Ms. Barilla filed a report with the Delaware State Police on Sept. 12, recounting the change of address attempt and a string of phone calls to her home from unknown sources.

A trooper taking the report told her to call him if any future odd calls arrive, and dial 911 if he’s not available, according to Ms. Barilla. Police suggested filing another report with more information if needed.

Ms. Barilla approached local media to tell her story because she was concerned it might happen to other people. Perhaps the USPS will alter its change of address process for more security, she said.

“I’m hoping to make other people aware of just how easy it is to do that online and help them realize that they have to watch out for something like what happened to me,” she said.

“If it’s that easy to do, I hope there will be some changes made to make it safer for everyone.”

Confirming the change

A Postal Service spokesman said all customers submitting a change of address order — hard copy or online — will receive a Move Validation Letter to the old address. It is mailed to the name on the order and “Current Resident,” according to Ray Daiutolo Sr. of the USPS.

“This prevents the letter from being forwarded to the new address,” Mr. Daiutolo said.

“There is a five-day delay before the COA information is loaded into the system that intercepts/forwards the mail,” he said.

“This is to allow time for the MVL to reach the old address and allow for validation.”

If no notification letter is received, customers should contact the Postal Service at (800) ASK-USPS for help, the spokesman said.

“At that point, a USPS support team talks with the customer to get details about the incident, then takes action to stop the mail forwarding and cancel the change-of-address order on file,” Mr. Daiutolo said.

“The incident is then turned over to the Postal Inspection Service for investigation and action.”

Ms. Barilla said she received no mail indicating a change of address had been ordered.

To change an address online at usps.com, a customer must provide valid credit card information at a $1 cost, according to the USPS. Approximately 41 percent of all change of address requests are currently submitted online, officials said.

The USPS said address information associated with the credit card must match the original address or the new address.

Of more than 36 million change of address orders the Postal Service received in Fiscal Year 2015, the USPS said fewer than 1,000 were referred to the Postal Inspection Service to investigate.

Federal criminal penalties up to imprisonment are possible for anyone convicted of submitting false or inaccurate information.

Unknown callers

Recently, after her mail had resumed arriving at home, Ms. Barilla said she took a call from someone who would only identify himself as “Larry,” who said he was processing a change of address request and needed more information.

“When I got the call I said to myself, ‘C’mon, I’m not going through this again,’ ” she said. “I’m at the point now where if I don’t recognize a number on caller ID I don’t pick up.”

She also was phoned earlier from Woodbridge, Virginia, several times from a number she can’t identify, and she gets no response when answering, according to her statement in the police report. She provided the mysterious number to State Police.

Additionally, she said, a person claiming to be from a doctor’s office called requesting medical information. Working in the medical field for years, Ms. Barilla asked the caller about Health Information Privacy Act regulations, which she reportedly knew nothing about.

She hung up on the caller.

“I’ve worked in the medical field and if you don’t know HIPA you’re not in the medical field,” she said.

Before realizing her mail was missing, Ms. Barilla said she’d received a couple calls from banks asking permission to open credit cards under her name.

“I said no, no I don’t want any of that,” she remembered. “I figured that was about it and didn’t do anything else about it.”

No mail located

None of her mail was located at the Texas address by the investigating post office. She has a deeper worry than missing mail, though.

“I don’t know if they have my personal information out there. I don’t know how much mail was taken.”

Among the monthly mail not to arrive so far are electric and television service bills, Ms. Barilla said.

Taking precaution to guard her assets, Ms. Barilla said she went to her banks and received a personal code allowing only her to access them.

By shredding her mail for years, not buying items online and opting not to put out personal information whenever possible, Ms. Barilla thought she did enough to protect herself.

Now, she’s experienced a situation that’s “very hard to go through.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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