Tuesday, March 28, 2023

I have a beloved client who is tireless in her efforts to prevent her identity from being stolen. She is heeding the warnings she received from consumer protection agencies not to toss or recycle any mail that has her name, her address or her deceased husband’s name, unless it is first shredded, sliced, diced or pulverized.

As soon as we began to work together to purge and reorganize several file cabinets, I saw how scrupulously she worked to ensure that every bit of her mail was placed in the shred box. The consumer protection agencies tell us to watch out for unsavory individuals who may pick through recycling boxes and garbage from individual homes or from a junkyard in search of scraps of information they can use to steal identities. Further, we are told they take that information and apply for credit cards, loans and sell the information on the dark web.

This idea that people lurk by garbage cans seemed both threatening and comical, like a suburban myth. A suburban myth is a common misconception that develops mysteriously, contains elements of horror or humor, and is often false, although it is adopted as an established truth by experts and non-experts. I felt the need to do a little research. What type of scam would someone try to pull off by using our home addresses?

What I found had nothing to do with people stealing our mail after we tossed it. In 2019, for example, the television news media were advising the public about a new identity theft scheme: change of address fraud, also known as a change of address scam. This is when an identity thief makes an unauthorized request of the U.S. Postal Service to reroute your mail to a different address and intercept private information and sensitive documents. These criminals change the mailing addresses of unsuspecting victims, access critical private information and open credit cards in victims’ names.

In one case, the victim received an unrequested change of address notification from the post office; in another case the post office neglected to even send the notification to the victim, yet they did reroute the mail. It is worth noting that by the time a household would receive notification, it is likely the address has been changed and damage has been done. The address can be changed back, but the victim of this crime has much work to do reversing the damage, and, as the journalist reporting on this case uncovered, the USPS will not reveal where the mail has been rerouted due to privacy laws. I am not making this up!

The journalist went on to say that there is nothing we can do to prevent this from happening. If you suspect possible mail fraud, report it to the USPS. You may go online to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at http://www.uspis.gov or call 1-877-876-2455.

Travel back in time with me before I learned about change of address fraud, and I have the task of reviewing and evaluating countless files. The preferred method of destruction would be using my client’s home shredder. Due to the large amount of paper we accumulated after purging her file cabinets, we were concerned her shredder might overheat and burn out. Fortunately, I have a reliable Pack and Ship store that offers shredding services for a very fair price. Here, and in the case of all shredding services, the paper is weighed and the customer is charged by the pound.

Observing that I made numerous trips to this store, I decided it was time to find a cheaper alternative. The wheels in my head began to turn. I remembered that one Friday in the summer, this client’s town offers a free drop-off paper-shredding service. Great, except it was currently early spring. One of my friends, who is a teacher in a high school for severely disabled students, had a creative solution. Many of the teens at his school are assigned jobs that fit their skill set. One particular boy had the job of shredding paper. My friend said the boy took pride in his work and would enjoy receiving a larger workload. I arranged for my friend to take a couple of large boxes filled with paper to this boy every couple of weeks. My client paid him in ice cream store gift certificates. It was truly one of those win-win situations.

Time passed and the paper overload was brought under control. During a recent session, I noticed that the shred basket was quite full. She told me she and her back do not enjoy sitting hunched by the shredding machine. I agreed that is a real concern, and again I set out to find a workable alternative. This time, I received a wise suggestion from a fellow organizer. She told me about the concept of an ID theft prevention stamp, which is meant to obliterate the view of anyone’s personal address by leaving an indelible impression the same size as the printed address on an envelope.

It was a challenge deciding between the many varieties found online. I chose one that had a self-inking stamp, a reversible pad that would double the number of impressions, presumably extending the life of the pad. It may be exaggerating to say my client did her happy dance when I gave it to her, but she was truly overjoyed, believing she had received a new way to halt a possible identity thief trying to gain information from the U.S. mail. What she actually had received was a way to halt her back pain.

I began using my ID theft prevention stamp daily to judge whether it was convenient and how it compared to using a shredder. Although I admit I had not been shredding my mail in the past, I began stamping my mail and I enjoyed the speed in which the stamp made my address disappear. Yet, I had to ask myself, if we don’t have to be afraid of the suburban mythical mail thieves in our backyard and we can’t control whether our address will, God forbid, be redirected to parts unknown, do we really need the handy dandy stamp?

I like my shredder. I will continue to depend on it for situations when I need to shred entire pieces of paper. In addition, if I should have boxes of papers to shred, I will continue to transport them to shredding services. We must be careful how we dispose of paper, and we have various shredding solutions, depending on the size of the project. Knowing what I now know about address fraud and what I always knew about the importance to my client to shred everything, if I had to do this job all over again, I would do it the exact same way.

If you need help cleaning out your home office, please contact me.

Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer and tzniut wardrobe stylist. For over 14 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals.” See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at [email protected]

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