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Postal Service cracks down on crooks using private mail boxes
WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. Postal Service announced plans Thursday to reduce consumer fraud and identity theft
with new regulations affecting private businesses that accept mail for others.
Postal officials said the changes target people who rent private mailboxes to shield illegal activities such as credit card
fraud and narcotics trafficking. Such mailboxes also are used as covers for mail order fraud, child pornography rings
and schemes to swindle the elderly.
Under new guidelines effective April 24, customers who want to rent a box from commercial mail-receiving agencies
must show a photo identification and verify they live or conduct business at the address listed on their application.
These customers also will be required to write their ``PMB,'' or private mail box, number on the second line of their
mailing address, similar to the way people with post office boxes are identified with a ``P.O. Box'' number. Mail
without a PMB number will be held by the Postal Service.
``The new regulations clarify addresses for individuals and businesses,'' said Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth Hunter. ``A
suite number or a prestigious avenue can give the perception of a corporate executive office of a well-established
business. Unscrupulous individuals rely on using these addresses to bilk American consumers.''
Customers with preprinted stationery will be given six months from the effective date to deplete current supplies.
Michael Mansfield, an assistant Queens district attorney in New York, said many white-collar crimes involve
commercial mailboxes. In one common scenario, thieves will rent a box and reroute their victims' mail to it after filling
out fraudulent change-of-address forms. Often, the criminals will rent the box for only a month before moving on to
another address. However, 30 days - the length of most billing cycles - are all thieves need to look through credit card
statements, pension information, home equity lines and frequent flier reports.
``During a 30-day period, someone can find out virtually everything there is to know about you,'' Mansfield said.
Hunter said the Postal Service has sent out information about the PMB designation and the other new regulations to
companies that issue credit cards, the rebate and mail order industry, and law enforcement agencies. Postal authorities
plan to conduct audits to ensure compliance and make sure the regulations are working smoothly.
``We are not targeting commercial mail-receiving agencies, we are just closing a loophole that allows criminals to take
advantage of these businesses,'' Hunter said.