Q: For months now, I have been inundated with mail addressed to a woman with the same last name as me, but a different first name, although it starts with a J, just like my name. The mailings are coming from all different sources such as companies affiliated with Medicare-related matters (particularly during the change your plan window), and also things like TV or online products or retailers.
I can’t pin down one, specific source of information to contact to delete this name from being associated with me or my address. When I Google the name that’s on the mailings, I find information on a woman who is my age and, apparently, lives in my house.
With all the identity theft and just plain errors on databases with our personal information, this worries me a lot. I keep hearing from people that I worry too much and who cares — “we all get stuff addressed to a wrong name” — but I know one small error can lead to lots of big consequences given the right circumstance down the road. Am I incorrect about that from your perspective?
A: First, I would never advise some to brush off something that hints of identity theft or errant information on databases you care about.
You say most of the mailings are related to Medicare and health insurance issues, and maybe some other products that seniors might be interested in. My guess is some company has gotten ahold of your information and put you in a database and messed up your first name. Maybe some free luncheon you went to about Medicare? Maybe some magazine aimed at seniors?
I’m a little unsettled, though, that you can find online databases that match the name on the mailing and give an age.
Here’s what I would do:
1. Open the mailings and see whether any of the information is specific to you or your doctors or anything connected to you.
2. Track down a couple of the senders. Call them. Have the mailing in hand and ask them why you are getting this mailing addressed to someone with the same last name but different first name.
3. With every future mailing you receive, take a permanent magic marker and cross out the the addressee and write “Return to sender, no such person at this address.” Just put them in a mailbox or give them to your postal carrier.
4. Now go into protect mode. Check your credit reports immediately to make sure there are no accounts you don’t recognize, and make sure none of the reports include the name on your mailings. You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each of the three major credit bureaus. Go to annualcreditreport.com or call 1-877-322-8228. You’ll be asked to provide your name, address, Social Security number and date of birth. If there’s any inaccurate information on your credit reports, use the dispute process to get the information removed or corrected.
5. If there are actually accounts in use on the credit reports that aren’t yours, you need to do more. Contact the creditors directly by phone. File an identity theft affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission (it will provide you with pre-written letters to send to creditors) and file a police report. Freeze your credit files. (See below.)
6. Be extra paranoid about calls to your home, or text messages or emails that look like they’re from reputable companies that you may do business with. Be on guard for any attempt to extract personal information about you.
7. Buy a locking mailbox.
8. Contact the financial institutions where you have bank accounts, investment accounts, credit cards and other types of accounts. First, make sure all of your contact information is current and ask whether there is any variation of names on your accounts that might involve this mystery identity.
9. Remember that 88 percent of identity theft involves existing accounts. Ask your banks, creditors and investment firms whether you can put additional PINs or verbal passwords on your accounts that don’t involve any public record data such as your date of birth or mother’s maiden name. You want to make sure someone can’t access your accounts for wire transfers or to change your contact information without your secret password.
10. Put every type of protection you can on your financial accounts. If you can require codes to be sent to your cellphone in order for you to log in from an unknown phone or computer, do it. Request email or text alerts for purchases or bank account withdrawals or changes to your contact information.
11. If you have reason to believe someone is truly trying to steal your identity, put a freeze on your credit files with the three major credit bureaus.