Even address can be taken

The Baltimore Sun

The Q:

If you haven't heard about the problems associated with theft of your identity, you've been living under a rock. But what if someone steals your address for misuse?

Susan Shock of Baltimore said, "Someone has used my address, but not my name, to charge classified ads in at least three different newspapers across the nation. I have gotten invoices from The Wichita Eagle, Orlando Sentinel, and Buffalo News addressed to three different names - Tony Blake, James Ballwood and Brian Ballwood, respectively - all for classified ads. Two of the invoices say there was a returned check."

"Do you think this could affect me financially in any way?" Shock said. "I asked my bank, but the person I spoke with said they go by name, not address, so she didn't think it would be a problem. I checked my credit report when I got the first invoice, but it looked normal. I keep wondering if I need to do anything else to protect myself. If you have any thoughts on the subject I'd be interested to hear them. Thanks for your help."

The A:

It's a smart move to check your credit reports, but Shock will have to take some extra steps to protect herself from a nasty bolt from out of the blue down the road.

Credit agencies primarily rely on names and Social Security numbers, but do recall that credit reports also list current and prior addresses, too.

"This might be a bigger headache than she thinks," said Steve Hannan, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition. To be extra sure she's covered all her bases, Hannan provided four steps Shock should take to protect her credit:

File a police report. Remind the local police that Maryland recently passed a law that says a crime report can be filed in the jurisdiction where the victim lives. It doesn't matter where the crime occurred. "It's the primary thing she can do to protect herself," Hannan said.

Write a letter to the businesses where her address was misused. "She should write to the three newspapers to let them know that no one by those names lives at her address," Hannan said. "Businesses will report bounced checks to a central company. She doesn't want her address to trigger a bad report in the future."

Return the mail and contact the Postal Inspector in her vicinity. Don't open future mail that's not addressed to her. Mark it "Return to Sender." Mail fraud is bad. To find the closest office, check out this link: http:--www.usps.com/ncsc/locators/find-is.html.

Keep checking those credit reports. "She's going to have to be vigilant about it," Hannan said. "I'd check it the first of the year. She can get a free one. If anything shows up with those checks, it will be reported by then."

If Shock is really worried, she could request a credit freeze from all three credit agencies. She should keep in mind, however, that such a request will make it harder for her to open new lines of credit quickly.

The four steps sound like a lot of trouble, but it's not nearly so bad if you consider it can take up to two years or more to clear your credit after your identity has been stolen.

Reach Consuming Interests by e-mail at consuminginterests@baltsun .com or by phone at 410-332-6151. Read more of Dan Thanh Dang's consumer report columns at baltimoresun.com/consuming.

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