Rip-off alert: Watch out for the 'change my address' scam
It's one of the million little things you need to do when you move—contact the postal service to change your mailing address.
Here's where the problem can occur: Many people do a random search for "address change" and wind up on one of a number of sites run by private businesses. These companies charge anywhere from $17 to $24 to file that simple change of address form for you, something you can do yourself on the official USPS site for a dollar.
Scambook.com, an online complaint resolution site, has heard from hundreds of consumers about such "change of address" sites.
"Some people report they are charged $1.00 at first, but then a short time later, there's another charge for additional services they did not knowingly purchase," said Scambook's Miranda Perry.
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Most of these complaints are about a site called Change-My-Address.com. The company's Google Search advertisement appears at the top of the list when you search terms like "forward my mail," "change my address," register new address" or "USPS change of address."
Angela Leddy went online to change her address after her recent move to a new house in Indianapolis. She searched for "change my mailing address" and saw an ad that said "USPS® Change of Address Form. Fast & Secure Mail Forwarding."
She clicked on the link and landed on Change-My-Address.com. Thinking she was on the U.S. Postal Service site, Leddy filled out the form and punched in her credit card number.
Two days later, Leddy spotted a $19.99 charge on her account. And she was furious.
"It's deceitful, it's deceptive and it's misleading," she said. "And for someone who's pretty Internet savvy, I was scammed."
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Leddy called the company and they agreed to refund $10. Not satisfied with that partial refund, Leddy complained to the Better Business Bureau of Cincinnati (where the company is located), which got the company to refund the rest of her payment.
The BBB has received more than 150 complaints in the last year about Change-My-Address.com.
"That's a lot of complaints for one company," said Leslie Kish, vice president of operations at the Cincinnati BBB. "There is a pattern of complaints about customer service and refund issues. Some people said they paid the money and did not receive the change of address service."
Change-My-Address has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau.
In a statement emailed to NBC News, Change-My-Address.com said it addresses all complaints and offers a partial refund of $10 to anyone who requests it within 10 days.
"We have worked since our inception to be in compliance with all local, state and federal laws," Benjamin Miller in corporate communications wrote. "We have attempted to work with our local Better Business Bureau, unfortunately with little success. However, we answer all complaints with the BBB and have a positive resolution rate better than 97 percent."
The company said it gives its "members" generous value-added services for that $19.95 fee, such as special offers from major retailers.
Miller noted that the company says in six different places that is it not affiliated with the USPS. Here is the notice on the company's home page:
Change My Address is a private business entity that facilitates the address change process for its users and is not affiliated with the US Postal Service™. The fee for this service is to cover the postage, handling, additional services not available through the post office and processing fees charged by the US Postal Service™. If you just wish to file with the US Postal Service and not receive our additional benefits, you may do so by visiting the USPS® website. There is a one dollar processing fee charged by the USPS® for submitting an online address change request that must be paid with a valid debit or credit card.
Note: The $19.95 charge is not mentioned in that disclosure—or anywhere else on the home page. That detail is buried in the fine print on the "Legal Terms" page ... if you bother to click on that link to that page.
Instead, there is a disclosure box at the top of the payment page that indicates you are agreeing to a one-time charge of $19.95.
But, it's easy to miss that price information because of the way that page is designed. The top of the payment page (where the price is shown) comes up above the top of your screen. You don't see it unless you scroll UP on the page. When I tried the site, I missed it the first two times, and I was specifically looking for pricing information.
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It's easy to understand why people like Geoffrey Faucett, who recently moved from Kansas to North Carolina, are so upset when they find that unexpected charge on their credit or debit card. Faucett thought he was on the official Postal Service site and expected to pay a dollar.
"I think it's wrong to take advantage of people like this," he told me. "It's a total rip-off."
Why are so many people confused about the true nature of this site?
The Better Business Bureau believes it may be because of the wording of the company's Google Search ad which says "USPS® Change My Address—Change-My-Address.com," and "USPS® Change of Address Form."
Back in February, the BBB notified Change-My-Address.com that it was concerned the ad "may create the impression that the business is related to the United States Postal Service."
In April, the BBB met with the company and requested it make changes to those ads to "more clearly explain" that it is not connected with the USPS. Those modifications have not been made.
It's perfectly legal for change of address companies to charge for this service. But you can do it easily yourself for only a dollar by going to the official United States Postal Service website or for free by visiting you neighborhood post office.