Mail-forwarding fraud complaints jump more than 700% in 2016

The number of cases of mail-forwarding fraud reported to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre jumped to 479 in 2016 compared to the year before.

It’s estimated 'everyone will be a victim of ID theft at one point in their lives’: Canadian anti-fraud expert

If you've received a change of address notification that you didn't authorize, contact Canada Post immediately. (iStock)

Canadians might want to check their mailboxes closely this year to make sure everything is showing up.

Complaints of mail-forwarding fraud for 2016 are more than seven times higher than for 2015, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

The scheme involves a fraudster impersonating someone and rerouting that person's mail through Canada Post, either to a residence or a business address. 

Often, the unsuspecting victim doesn't realize he or she has been targeted until that person receives a slip in the mail alerting that the address has been changed.

"If you ... have received a mail-forwarding notification in the mail, or either you've seen that your mail has stopped, they [fraudsters] definitely have your information, and it's probably a lot worse than what you think," said Lisanne Roy Beauchamp, acting team leader for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, a federal agency that collects information and criminal intelligence on various types of fraud, including identity theft.

Fraud complaints on the rise

The centre received 479 complaints of mail-forwarding fraud in 2016, a rise from 63 the year before. 

Officials say that's only a fraction of what's actually happening.

Address changes typically happen through Canada Post's online system, with fraudsters typically rerouting mail to a location that is either abandoned, vacant or up for sale. 

Roy Beauchamp said the information a fraudster needs to make a mail-forwarding request — your name, main phone number and address — can easily be found online.

Efforts to prevent ID theft

It may seem too simple, but Canada Post is doing a lot of work on the back end to prevent fraud, said Roy Beauchamp. Mail-forwarding requests are not automatically approved and Canada Post follows up on applications found to be suspicious. 

"They do have a whole whack of algorithms working on their side," she said.

In some cases, Canada Post will check credit reports to verify addresses and call phone numbers given.

In an email to CBC News, the postal service said it "follows a multi-pronged identity verification process in order to prevent fraud and ensure that individuals purchasing the service have the authority to do so."

Despite the rise in mail-forwarding complaints, Roy Beauchamp said Canada Post stops an "astronomical" number of fraudulent requests.

'Everyone will be a victim of ID theft'

If you've received notification of an address change from Canada Post that you did not request, it's important to notify the postal service.

From there, the case will go to the Canada Post fraud centre, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and credit bureaus to double check credit reports.

Roy Beauchamp said it's important to keep an eye on your credit cards and know what mail you're expecting to receive.

She also recommends checking your credit report, something you can do for free once a year.

"It's estimated that everyone will be a victim of ID theft at one point in their lives."