CBC Investigates

Montreal woman's mail diverted to suspected fraudster

When Kathleen Hamilton got a Canada Post notice asking her to confirm her request for mail forwarding, she thought it was a mistake. It turns out she was a victim of identity theft.

Canada Post slip asking her to confirm mail-forwarding request tipped off Kathleen Hamilton to identity theft

Kathleen Hamilton was shocked to discover her mail was being forwarded to another address without her authorization. (Kathleen Hamilton)

Montrealer Kathleen Hamilton thought Canada Post had made a mistake when it sent her a notice confirming her request to have her mail forwarded.

She'd never asked for the change.

When she called the postal service earlier this month, she discovered it wasn't an error — but fraud.

Someone had requested her mail be forwarded to a new address, and some of her mail had already been sent there.

Canada Post wouldn't tell her where the mail was going but apologized, advising her to report the fraud to police and obtain a credit report to see if there had been unauthorized activity.

"It was a lot of time and frustration," said Hamilton.

Kathleen Hamilton only discovered she was a victim of identity fraud after Canada Post sent her this slip, asking her to confirm she'd requested that her mail be forwarded to a new address. (submitted by Kathleen Hamilton)

Luckily, there wasn't any fraudulent activity on her bank account or credit card, but Hamilton asked Equifax, a consumer credit rating agency, to put an alert on her file.

Hamilton thought she'd dealt with the fallout, but 10 days later, she got a letter from the Bank of Montreal, thanking her for applying for a Mastercard. She hadn't. She cancelled the application immediately.

Intercepted driver's licence?

A police investigator told Hamilton he'd learned that a woman had shown up at a Canada Post branch with a driver's licence in her name and requested the change of address.

Hamilton cancelled her licence in September 2015, mailing the cut-up card to the SAAQ, Quebec's automobile insurance board.

"Maybe someone opened the letter and saw I was giving up my licence," Hamilton surmises.

Canada Post says it is continually working to combat mail fraud. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

After her experience, Hamilton has concluded Canada Post should not forward any mail until it gets confirmation of the occupant's change of address.

Canada Post refused to grant CBC an interview, but in a statement, a spokesperson for the postal service pointed out more than a million Canadians have their mail forwarded to a new address every year. 

"Canada Post 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," said Darcia Kmet.

She said anyone who discovers their mail is being redirected without their authorization should contact Canada Post immediately, and it will put a stop to the mail's redirection. ​

Personal info a commodity for fraudsters

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre saw a seven-and-a-half-fold increase in mail-forwarding fraud complaints last year: 479 complaints in 2016, compared to 63 the year before.

"If your mail is being forwarded, chances are you are already a victim of identity fraud," said Jeff Thomson, supervisor of the centre's operations support unit.

Personal information 'can be bought and sold and traded. There's a value to it.'- Jeff Thomson of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

Personal information can easily be found online, and Thomson said that's turned into a commodity for fraudsters.

"It can be bought and sold and traded," said Thomson. "There's a value to it. Given the right amount of personal information, it can be used to apply for credit cards, bank accounts and various financial products."

He said people need to be on the lookout for any missing mail.

If you do your banking online, Thomson recommends you review your bills and credit card statements regularly.

Check your credit reports at least once a year, he said, to see what activity has been documented and to make sure no one is applying for credit in your name.

Beware of tax-refund texting scams

Another scam to watch out for, particularly at this time of year, is a phishing scam that begins with a text message claiming to be from the Canada Revenue Agency.

If you receive a text like this one, beware. The Canada Revenue Agency never asks for personal information by email or text message. (CBC)

Until recently, this scam began with an email, but since March 2015, the anti-fraud centre has seen fraudsters turn to text messaging with the same ploy.

The text message states that you're getting a tax refund, and a link is provided.

The fraudsters then ask the victim to enter all their personal and financial information. That confidential information is then sold or used to commit financial crimes.

The Canada Revenue Agency never asks for personal information by email or text message.

The CRA suggests you be careful before clicking on any links, and if in doubt about the origin of a text or email, contact Revenue Canada directly.


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About the Author

Leah Hendry

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at leah.hendry@cbc.ca.