Can Someone Use Your Address If They Don't Live There?
In essence, yes: someone who requests your permission can legally use your address. To clarify why, let’s review the difference between “residence” and “domicile.”
A residence is where someone chooses to live for a short period of time, whereas a domicile is considered a person’s permanent home [*]. A resident temporarily living in a different state for school or work may want to forward mail to a domicile address.
But someone who isn’t the owner of a home or apartment must ask for permission. If permission is not requested and granted, that person is committing address fraud and maybe even mail fraud [*].
How To Stop Someone From Using Your Address
Every state has penalties for intentionally misrepresenting your physical address, and some of these penalties can be severe.
- Someone committing mail fraud in New York may face a five to 15-year prison sentence [*].
- In Wisconsin, mail fraud is a class H felony [*], which comes with a $10,000 fine and up to a six-year prison sentence [*].
- And as soon as the United States Postal Service (USPS) is involved, it becomes a federal crime. For address fraud, perpetrators are looking at five years behind bars. For full-blown mail fraud, culprits may serve up to 20 years [*].
While not as egregious as mail fraud, address fraud can be an inroad to identity theft. Victims may be left reeling from social media harassment, stolen tax refunds, and damaged credit scores. They may even lose their homes due to mortgage and deed fraud.
The good news is that you can take preventative steps to avoid the repercussions of identity theft — even if you’re the victim of address fraud. Follow the steps below to report address fraud, and proactively safeguard your family.
1. Gather evidence
People in the middle of a move (or who move homes frequently) are prime targets for address fraud.
- Scammers can use your old or your new address as proof of residence to obtain a driver’s license or open an insurance policy.
- They can also commit identity theft with a change-of-address scam, a type of fraud that directs your mail straight to the scammer’s mailbox.
- From there, they can gain access to personal information such as your name, phone number, or even sensitive information like your social security number (SSN).
During the moving process, avoid change of address sites (they could be fake), and be wary of sharing your new address with strangers — both in person and online. Instead, use the official USPS change of address website, or hold your mail until you are ready to change your address.
If you receive an incorrect change of address validation letter, renewal notices for unknown subscriptions, or if your bank notifies you of suspicious activity, you may be the victim of identity theft.
Collect as much information as you can — bank and credit card statements, USPS verification of your new address, the validation letter you received, and screenshots of fraud alerts — to help law enforcement track down the scammer.
Call your bank to cancel impacted credit cards, and contact your local USPS office to confirm that an incorrect validation letter wasn’t just a mistake.
2. Contact the sender
If you start receiving mail that’s not yours, do not open it. Destroying mail is a federal offense. Instead:
- Hand the mail back to your mail carrier and indicate that it’s not addressed to you or someone living with you.
- Put the mail back in your mailbox or drop it off at a local collection box. Before you do, cross out any barcode on the item and write “Not at this address” without covering the address. Don’t write “Return to sender” — the post office has its own marking for such purposes.
- Call the Priority Mail Express Reporting Unit if a package or envelope has “Priority Mail Express” on it: 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).
- Update your address by using the USPS change of address form. You should also follow your state’s process for changing your address on your ID. Go to your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), or fill out an online form.
3. Use a P.O. box
P.O. boxes and lockable mailboxes offer more security and privacy than residential mailboxes. And public USPS collection boxes aren’t much safer for outgoing mail. For instance, 412 USPS letter carriers were robbed in 2022 [*].
Unlike a typical residential mailbox, you need a key to open a P.O. box, making it harder for criminals to steal your mail. You can apply for a P.O. box online and then pick up your keys at your local post office. Keep in mind that you’ll need your printed application, as well as two forms of ID [*].
Note that a P.O. box can serve as a mailing address, but not as your legal home address.
4. Digitally preview your mail before it arrives
The USPS offers a free service called Informed Delivery [*]. Once enabled, you can digitally preview your letter-sized mail on your phone, tablet, or computer.
You can manage package arrival times remotely, as well. Rescheduling deliveries when you’re traveling can help you dodge mail theft. And taking screenshots of important letters and packages can be valuable evidence, should you need to report mail theft.
Some people use a virtual mailbox to convert their physical mail to digital files. Incoming mail is scanned and sent to you via email or an app, allowing you to store and access it anywhere.
While convenient, virtual mailboxes are hackable. Choose a provider with security measures such as encryption and two-factor authentication (2FA), and be sure that they shred your original mail after you provide consent.
5. Refuse unwanted mail addressed to you
Advertisements from unknown businesses or other unsolicited junk mail can be refused so long as you don’t open it.
Write “Refused” on the letter or package, then return it to your carrier, put it back in your mailbox, or drop it off at the post office.
You can even refuse mail that you have to sign for. Check “Refuse” on the delivery person’s app or on the delivery slip that they leave at your door. And don’t forget to sign it.
There is a caveat to refusals: you cannot refuse Registered, Insured, Certified, or Collect on Delivery (COD) mail [*]. If you want to return this kind of mail, you must pay for the delivery, then repackage and send it back.
You also can’t refuse response mail to promotions that you didn’t originally refuse. To remove yourself from bulk mailing lists, register for a mail suppression service such as DMAchoice, and pay the $4 fee for online registration or the $5 fee for mail-in registration.
Registration lasts for 10 years [*]. Remove your name from prescreened offer lists by calling 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or by visiting OptOutPrescreen.com. You can choose to opt out for five years, or forever.
6. File a complaint with a USPS office near you
If you continue to receive someone else’s mail, haven’t received an important delivery, or are experiencing other mail service issues, file a complaint. You can do this by:
- Filling out USPS’s Email Us form. Provide as much detail as possible about the delivery or address issues that you’re experiencing.
- Calling 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777).
- Speaking with the station manager at your local post office. Note the date and time that you went, along with any other details the person provided — such as a case number and estimated resolution date.
If you receive sexually provocative advertising offers, apply for a Prohibitory Order against the sender through the USPS.
And, if you suspect you’ve been the victim of mail fraud, mail theft, or mail destruction, submit a U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Mail Fraud Complaint form, and report the incident to the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to start an investigation. Note that the OIG and USPIS do not investigate delivery or customer service issues.
7. Contact your local election office
If you’ve received any election-related mail addressed to someone else, refuse it and then contact your local election office. They can remedy the situation and advise you on next steps.
8. Remove your address from public websites
Consumer addresses can easily get exposed during a data breach, and scammers sell that information on criminal marketplaces on the Dark Web.
While you can’t control whether a company experiences a cyberattack, you can remove your address from public websites by:
- Using a data removal tool like DeleteMe or OneRep to remove your data from multiple broker sites for an annual fee. Another option is to sign up for any Aura plan in order to access its data broker opt-out services. Aura saves you time by scanning known databases and lodging automatic requests on your behalf to remove your data from data broker sites.
- Using the Whois lookup tool to find out which company owns the domain that is publishing your personal information, and then contacting them. Their email should be seen under “Admin email” or “Registrant email” — but if it isn’t, contact the company via its website’s “Contact Us” page. Include screenshots of where your information is shared, along with your email address for follow-up.
- Removing your information from Google. Request to remove your information from sites with exploitative removal practices and request to eliminate personally identifiable information (PII) from showing up in Google searches. You can also remove your home from Google Maps by clicking on “Report a Problem” over the image that pops up for your address.
9. Contact local law enforcement
If someone else is using your address for a driver’s license, insurance, or proof of residence, contact the police immediately.
Gather security camera footage and statements from neighbors or other potential witnesses. Assemble any other information — such as letters or emails verifying a new insurance policy — and head to the police station.
Filing a report not only leads police one step closer to finding identity thieves; it can also be a requirement when reporting unauthorized purchases or new lines of credit.
How To Report Address Fraud
Change of address fraud is not uncommon, and it has become even more prevalent in recent years. In 2022, the Office of the Inspector General reported a 167% increase in fraudulent address changes [*].
After clicking on the first website that came up in a “change address” Google search, a college student in Indiana unwittingly gave up her information and paid an $80 fee [*].
For a man in Tacoma, address fraud had dire consequences. Scammers changed his address and directed vital equipment to treat his metabolic disorder to an address hundreds of miles away — an incident that has occurred twice [*].
If something like this happens to you, here’s how to report it:
- Build your case. Gather evidence of fraudulent use of your address — such as validation letters, fraud notifications from your bank, incorrect healthcare notices, informed delivery screenshots, and credit card statements.
- Contact your bank and other financial institutions. They can help you shut down your bank accounts and advise you on how to get your money back. But be careful — scammers create fake customer support websites. Use your online account or mobile app to contact your bank directly.
- Review your credit report. Order a free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. Look for inconsistencies or errors such as a wrong address, incorrect payoff dates, and mysterious hard inquiries. Dispute the information with Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Include additional information identifying the mistake, your contact information, and the incorrect credit report. Consider a credit freeze so that no one can open new financial accounts or loans in your name.
- Update all online banking passwords. Use a secure password manager to stay ahead of any breaches, and enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) to block access for anyone who may have your usernames and passwords.
- File a police report, and secure a file number. Report identity theft to the USPIS, alert them of suspicious mail, and notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of fraud by visiting reportfraud.ftc.gov. Include your police file number in every submission.
- Sign up for Aura’s financial fraud monitoring service. If you get a credit monitoring alert about a new address, someone may be attempting to get approval for a new credit card or loan, or add themselves as an authorized user of one of your credit cards. Aura’s fast alerts empower you to quickly respond to fraudulent activity.
Don’t Dismiss Address Fraud. Aura Can Help.
Address fraud can be used to commit crimes related to identity theft, but there could be other grave motivations behind it.
Phony businesses may use someone’s address as a “warehouse” or as another business location in order to seem legitimate. Other perpetrators may use different addresses to enroll their children in better school districts, vote in different states, evade taxes, get lower insurance rates, or avoid bench warrants.
The bottom line is that address fraud has severe consequences — regardless of criminal motivation. So, how can you protect yourself and your family?
Take action against fraud with Aura’s identity theft protection solution. Receive fraud alerts up to 250 times faster than the competition, and get peace of mind with built-in credit monitoring, safe web browsing, 24/7 U.S.-based customer support, and a $1 million identity theft insurance policy.