Going to the mailbox can be a rewarding experience if you’re getting checks or cards and letters from friends. But what if you get mail with someone else’s name on it — someone you don’t know?
A Clark Howard Podcast listener recently posed that very question.
Clark says that getting someone else’s mail could be the result of an innocent clerical mistake, but it could be something much more sinister: a scam called synthetic identity theft.
What Is Synthetic Identity Theft and How Does It Work?
Synthetic identity theft is a complex type of scam in which the criminal creates a composite identity from personal data stolen from multiple people.
According to Experian, the scam is “made to look like real customers with good credit scores and histories, but are fabricated by fraudsters to perpetrate fraud. These identities are generally based on a Social Security number (SSN) or a credit privacy number (CPN).”
Clark says these scams have fooled banks, credit card companies and even credit bureaus.
“The way it works is that somebody uses a mix of different people’s Social Security numbers and other people’s names and a mix of addresses,” Clark says. “The credit bureau systems fail to detect the synthetic identity theft that involves one person’s name, another person’s Social Security Number [and] another person’s address. And so they’re doing this three-way mix to the point that they’ve created another identity.”
In the case of the listener, who continues to get somebody else’s mail, Clark says this:
“It could be that mess, or it could be just an ‘oops’ that somebody’s name has mistakenly been attached to your address. It could be either factor. You just want to make sure that you take the precautions that you can take.”
How To Protect Yourself Against Synthetic Identity Theft
Once you’ve set up those free credit-monitoring services, Clark says it’s time to freeze your credit.
“Everybody in your household needs to do these steps,” he says, “because you don’t know who the target is in the house: who’s being used potentially for fodder for somebody applying for credit or creating an identity that uses your address and /or your Social Security number.”