ID theft traced to bogus postal form

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Astoria resident Susan Simons, who asked that her face not be shown, had her identity stolen.THE QUEENS COURIER/PHOTO BY CHRISTINA SANTUCCI
Astoria resident Susan Simons, who asked that her face not be shown, had her identity stolen.

A false change of address notification has caused a nightmare for one Queens resident and prompted local legislators to call for stricter requirements from the United States Postal Service (USPS).
Astoria resident Susan Simons, 56, received a notice from the USPS confirming a change of address in the mail on December 26, 2007, but the problem was Simons never applied for a change of address.
The USPS processed a change of address request nearly three weeks earlier sending Simons’ mail to a Bronx address, which opened up an assortment of problems Simons never imagined.
“I do everything they tell you to do to protect yourself [from identity theft]” Simons said. “It was the last thing on my mind that I would have to think about the USPS giving my life away.”
The person who allegedly filed the request began receiving Simons’ mail and starting applying for new credit cards and writing out checks to herself including up to $7,000 from an American Express account.
To make matters worse, Simons said her W-2 and 1099 tax forms - which contained her social security number - were among the items forwarded to the Bronx address.
Simons said that for nearly a month beginning in the middle of January, she spent much of her time on the phone with credit card companies, fraud alert agencies and even traveling to her local bank to deal with something new that came up each day.
When Simons alerted the USPS, postal investigators took on the case. Since then, authorities have made an arrest in the case, according to Simons, who received a notice in the mail about the arrest.
However, she said that her confidence in the USPS has evaporated.
“I blame the USPS for this,” Simons said. “I have always tried to protect myself [from identity theft],” Simons said. “I feel like they aided and abetted a criminal. I could be angry with the criminal, but I’m angrier at the USPS.”
Meanwhile, the incident has prompted some local lawmakers to ask the USPS to review their change of address policy to make sure this type of fraud does not happen to more of their constituents.
Queens State Senator George Onorato wrote a letter to Postmaster General Jack Potter urging the USPS to “make immediate changes in its change of address procedures to protect their identity and security.”
“You shouldn’t require a law that prevents this from happening; they [the USPS] should take this upon themselves,” Onorato said.
Currently, the USPS allows customers to file a change of address form in three ways: filling out a hard copy card, filling out a form over the Internet or doing it by telephone - none of which requires valid photo identification. Since 2006, the USPS has received nearly 37 million requests for the hard copy version, 5 million through the Internet and nearly 100,000 over the telephone.
However, Al Weissmann, Postal Inspector and Public Information Officer for the NY Division, said that in 2006, the USPS received only 228 complaints about unauthorized requests, and an even smaller percentage of those turned out to be legit.
“We’re open minded about any ideas that might improve the system that is currently in place,” Weissmann said. “Someone can argue that these numbers indicate that no change is necessary.”
In addition, Weissmann said that the USPS sends out a notice - usually within a week to 10 days - to both the old and new address confirming the change. However, in Simons’ case, she said she did not receive her letter until more than two weeks after the fraudulent request occurred.
Although Simons said that the aggravation and countless hours spent on the phones with credit card companies was a nuisance, she tried to keep it in perspective.
“In the scheme of bad things happening in the world, it’s not the worst thing,” she said. “So far, I’m not responsible for any of the charges.”