In this article:
Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
Is It Illegal for Someone To Use Your Address?
Yes, using someone else's address or someone using your address is illegal. This type of fraud is known as address fraud and manifests in various guises such as brushing scams and rental scams.
A Colorado Springs homeowner was flustered when someone came to her address looking to pick up a newly-acquired puppy [*]. When this unsettling episode repeated itself, she realized that it carried the distant din of a more elaborate scam.
Criminals can even change your address and redirect your mail thousands of miles from your home address. According to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the number of fraudulent address change requests grew by more than 266% between 2020 and 2021 [*].
The consequences for address fraud vary by state; but when the United States Postal Service (USPS) is implicated, it becomes a federal crime [*]. For example, in Wisconsin, mail fraud is a Class H Felony [*], punishable by up to six years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both [*].
At the federal level, culprits could face up to five years in jail for address fraud, while the penalties for mail fraud can be as severe as two decades behind bars [*].
Steps to Stop Someone from Using Your Address
Receiving mail not addressed to you doesn't necessarily mean that someone misused your address, but it's better to be safe than sorry.
What you don't want to do is open or destroy the mail. This could get you fined or imprisoned for up to five years for obstruction of correspondence [*]. You also shouldn't complete a change-of-address form for the intended recipient. That could land you in hot water for address fraud or identity theft [*].
Here are some steps you can take to stop someone from using your home address fraudulently.
- Preview your mail
- Return unopened packages
- Refuse unwanted mail addressed to you
- Alert companies that send you someone else's mail
- Opt out of any bulk mailing lists
- Apply for a Prohibitory Order against the sender (if applicable)
- Scrub your address from public sites
- File a complaint with your local USPS office
- Report a scam or mail fraud with the USPIS
- Contact your local law enforcement
- Shred documents containing personal information
1. Preview your mail
The USPS offers Informed Delivery, a service that sends you digital images of your upcoming mail [*]. This allows you to track your mail daily and cut down on mail theft, and it also gives you the chance to spot mail in someone else's name before it ever reaches you.
If you notice missing or mislabeled mail, click the "Report missing mail" link or contact your local post office.
2. Return unopened packages
While "Return to sender" may be a well-known designation, it's not a clear direction for the post office. Avoid writing this on misdelivered mail. Instead, endorse it as “Not at this address” and return it to the mail receptacle. The USPS Mail Forwarding Service can then reroute any pieces addressed to that person in the future.
You should also strike out any barcodes on the package. Since the Intelligent Mail barcode (IMb) contains your mailing address, the package could be returned to you if the post office overlooks your handwritten notation.
If possible, consider handing the misdelivered package directly to your mail carrier. This way, you ensure that the carrier sees your notation and takes the appropriate action. You can always hand the package in to your local post office as well.
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3. Refuse unwanted mail addressed to you
If you receive properly addressed but unwanted mail, write “Refused” on the unopened mailpiece and return it to the mail receptacle.
You can refuse some accountable mail by checking the "Refused" box on the delivery notice and providing your signature. Before doing so, consider getting the sender's name and address. This additional information might come in handy if you need to report or block mail from a persistent sender.
However, once you open a mailpiece, you can no longer refuse it. Instead, repackage it in a new envelope, add postage and an address, and return it to the sender.
4. Alert companies that send you someone else’s mail
For some mail, you might want to go beyond simply returning or refusing the mailpiece. If you receive a service or product renewal notice meant for someone else, for example, consider contacting the sender. Let them know that the address in their system is wrong and needs changing.
If someone accidentally used your address, your action will help the company remedy the mistake. If the misuse was intentional, this will likely put a stop to it in at least one place.
5. Opt out of any bulk mailing lists
Whether you signed up for it or not, you're likely getting junk mail. Some junk mail is sent to you by name, such as pre-approved credit card offers. But most promotional mail is sent without a specific recipient name. This makes it difficult to know if someone used your address without your consent.
Take control of your mailbox by opting out of mailing lists. You can register for the do-not-mail-service from DMAChoice via dmachoice.org.
Remove your name from prescreened offer lists by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com or by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688). There's a five-year option, as well as a permanent option that requires a signature.
You might even contact the companies directly to ask them to stop sending junk mail. Companies like PaperKarma and CatalogChoice offer paid services to reduce unwanted mail for you.
6. Apply for a Prohibitory Order against the sender (if applicable)
If you receive unwanted sexually oriented advertising, you have two additional avenues available. A Prohibitory Order will shield you from a specific mailer sending unwanted "erotically arousing or sexually provocative" advertising [*]. To qualify, you must complete the application and submit an open example of the advertisement.
You can also apply to join the USPS list of people who do not want to receive any sexually oriented advertising at all. While this does not guarantee removal from all mailing lists, it should reduce some of the more explicit content.
📌 Read more: How To Know If You’ve Received a Fake USPS Tracking Number →
7. Scrub your address from public sites
A quick online search for your address will show you all of the places that have published your information. Follow the specific site instructions to have your information removed, or directly contact the site administrator.
Once the sites expunge your information, it can take some time to see the changes on Google. Speed up the process by submitting a Google request to remove outdated content.
8. File a complaint with your local USPS office
If an issue remains unresolved after taking the above steps, visit or call your local USPS office to file a complaint. Ask to speak to the post office station manager. You might also call 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777) or the toll free phone number: 1-800-877-8339.
There's also the Consumer & Industry Contact, which investigates local service issues. The USPS’s Consumer Advocate office can be of service in certain cases as well. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For complaints against USPS employees and processes, use the Office of Inspector General (OIG) Hotline.
9. Report a scam or mail fraud with the USPIS
If you suspect that you're the victim of mail fraud, fill out and submit a Mail Fraud Complaint Form with the USPIS. In this form, you can report various schemes — including chain letters, false bills or notices, imposters, and healthcare insurance scams. There's also a complaint hotline at 1-800-372-8347.
Postal inspectors — the federal law enforcement and security arm of the USPS — investigates all complaints that they deem valid. Along with mail fraud, you can report identity theft and suspicious mail.
10. Contact your local law enforcement
In some cases, you may need to take more drastic action. Misaddressed mail from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or an insurance provider might indicate graver criminal activity.
Contact the sender and inform them of the error. If the problem persists, you should get in touch with your local law enforcement.
Misuse of your address for a driver's license, insurance policy [*], or proof of residency [*] can result in fines or criminal charges [*]. This might prompt an investigation and make it clear that your address was misappropriated and not willfully shared.
11. Shred documents containing personal information
As a preventative measure, consider shredding all of your personal documents before throwing them in the trash. For documents containing sensitive information — like your Social Security number (SSN) — burn or dispose of them in multiple receptacles, if possible. You never know who might be rummaging through your garbage.
If You Think You’ve Been Scammed, Do This
When a visitor came knocking and asked to take a walk-through of her Illinois home, Donna was taken aback. She hadn't listed her house or any of its rooms for sale or rent, but a fake listing on Zillow said otherwise [*].
While this address scam inconvenienced Donna, it didn't cost her financially. Other homeowners might not be as fortunate. If the wrong person has your address, they could steal your mail or your identity.
If you suspect you're the victim of identity theft or an address scam, follow the steps below.
Gather information about the fraud
Start by collecting any evidence related to the fraud. This might include mailpieces, real estate listings, photographs, documentation, and correspondences. Create a timeline that might help investigators solve the case.
Contact your bank and other financial institutions
Check your credit card and bank statements for any suspicious activity. If your bank account or financial information has been compromised, reach out to your bank and make a fraud report.
Protect yourself from financial attacks
Your bank may give you a new account number, but you should change the passwords for all of your financial accounts as well. You can also sign up for financial fraud monitoring with a service like Identity Guard.
These protection plans offer new credit inquiry notifications, Dark Web monitoring, and $1 million in identity theft insurance coverage. Save more and get a 60 day money-back guarantee on any Identity Guard annual plan →
Contact a credit bureau
Order a free credit report and review it for any irregularities. You should also call one of the credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on your file.
This will notify all three of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Alerts remain on file for one year or until you remove them. Freezing your credit is another option. (To do so, you need to contact each of the three credit bureaus individually.)
Ensure that your identity is safe
Look for signs that your identity has been stolen and try to get ahead of the repercussions. If you notice an ID card was stolen, contact the appropriate officials to invalidate the missing identification.
For example, you may be able to place a "Verify ID” flag on your driver's license. This will alert law enforcement if someone tries to use it.
Secure your online accounts and devices
Perform a security review of your online accounts and devices — including email, social media, and all electronics. Look for suspicious activity, change and improve the strength of your passwords, and set up two-factor authentication (2FA).
File a police report
Filing a police report serves multiple purposes. One, it initiates an investigation of fraudulent activities. Two, it declares your innocence of any illegal activities involving your address or identity.
Police reports are particularly effective if you have useful information or evidence that your address was used in a crime. Your bank may also require you to file a police report. Typically, you'll get an incident number and/or a file number to follow up on the report.
Report the scam to other authorities
Touch base with any other authorities that the scam involves. If you have evidence of mail fraud, for example, alert the USPIS. You should also report scams or fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Depending on your situation, you could file a fraud report or an identity theft report. You might consider submitting a complaint to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) as well.
Report the scam online
If you share your experience, you could help protect others. You can report fraudulent businesses and practices to the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Scam Tracker. You might also tell your story on a public forum, such as the Scam & Fraud section of the AARP website.
Address Fraud Can Have Life-Upending Fallouts
There are many reasons why someone might use your address. Some schemes evade the system, while others could have more damaging consequences for you.
- Identity theft. If identity thieves have your address, they may be able to misrepresent you. In a change-of-address scam, for example, the scammer reroutes your mail to a new address.
- School fraud. By lying about their address, parents may get their children into schools in more desirable districts. Some schools offer reduced or free tuition to district residents. If caught misusing an address or a P.O. box, the parents may face stiff financial penalties [*].
- Fake Businesses. Someone may use your home address to make a fake business more believable. This can lead to angry customers showing up at your door seeking their purchased goods.
- Real estate fraud. Scammers can rent or even sell properties that they don't actually own. If your address gets used in this way, you may find renters or buyers showing up and trying to enter your home.
- Election fraud. People can scam various election systems with fake addresses. This can qualify them to vote in certain districts — or even become an illegitimate high-ranking school board member [*]. If the truth comes to light, scammers could face criminal charges.
- Tax and rate evasion. An address can grant access to preferred tax and insurance rates. Because of this, people misrepresent where they live to save money. If caught, offenders may be subject to fines or denied claims.
- Warrant evasion. If a criminal uses your address to evade a warrant or arrest, you could find yourself in a precarious situation when the police come looking for the wanted person.
No matter what you do, address fraud can never be completely avoided. However, you can secure, monitor, and fortify your identity and personal information with a robust protection plan.
Identity Guard’s proactive features and tools make identity theft less likely and less damaging for you and your family.