Jesse Jones

‘It’s been a nightmare’: Rise in change of address scams hits home for Tacoma family

Change-of-address fraud is on the rise, almost tripling to 23,000 cases last year, according to new data from the United States Postal Service.

Scammers changing an address either online or in person have been a nightmare, one family told Jesse Jones.

Travis Palmer of Tacoma has an extremely rare metabolic disorder called Barth syndrome, which affects his heart, muscles and growth.

A scammer changed Travis’ address, directing vital equipment for Travis more than a thousand miles away to the scammer’s home in Nevada.

“It’s been a nightmare,” Travis’ mother Carra said.

John Wiegand from the United States Postal Inspection Service says out of 36 million changes of address made annually in the U.S., only 36,000 come back with some sort of issue.

But the Palmers said they have faced an issue twice.

“When it happens twice to somebody, (it) happens multiple times,” Wiegand said. “That’s an indicator to us that something a little more (is) going on here.”

For more than a decade, the USPS Office of Inspector General has filed reports on issues in the postal services change-of-address process.

In 2008, the OIG reported that the Postal Service should improve controls to ensure proper authorization and validation of COA requests.

But in 2018, a report said the USPS “lacks a control requiring customers to present a government-issued form of identification for review when submitting a hardcopy COA.”

And in April 2022, new data revealed fraudulent changes of address almost tripled from 8857 in 2020 to more than 23,000 in 2021.

Carra Palmer would like to tell the Postal Service it should work for the customer and not just allow anyone to change a name and address, or forward mail somewhere.

A change of address can be made at the post office or online. An in-person application requires an ID to confirm, while an online application just needs a credit card.

One issue is if a scammer gets a credit card in your name, they can change your address easily.

Jesse Jones went to Nevada, to stake out the mailbox where the Palmers’ mail was redirected.

A neighbor told Jesse the people who lived there were squatters who left in a U-Haul in the middle of the night.

Brian McDermott of Mountlake Terrace also has had a false change of address filed at his residence and his mail was sent to California.

“It’s stressful because there’s nothing you can do to correct it,” McDermott said. “Absolutely nothing. You can go up there, you make all the requests you want, but you got to go through the process.”

Wiegand told Jesse they will investigate the Palmers’ case.

In a statement to KIRO 7 News, the USPS said: “Identity theft can’t happen through a change of address fraud. Someone can’t steal your identity with a change of address order. In order for someone to submit a forward on your behalf, they’ve already obtained your personal identifiable information and stolen your identity.”

But that doesn’t account for someone not asking for ID at the counter.

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