USPS address corrections raise privacy concerns

Change of address: USPS address corrections raise privacy concerns

Sweeney, Theresa

USPS address corrections raise privacy concerns.

Privacy is a hot button issue, for credit unions, consumers, and politicians-pretty much everyone.

Most of the debate centers around electronic privacy and the new concerns about the effects of emerging technologies on privacy.

However, it’s not a new issue and, as the following story illustrates, not limited to the electronic realm.

Jeff Schroth, president/ CEO of $32 million/5,450member Purina Credit Union, St. Louis, posed this question on CUES Net(TM), CUES’ members-only listserve:

“Has anyone chosen NOT to change member mailing addresses when you receive an address correction from the United States Postal Service?

“If so, what, if anything, do you do when you receive one?

“We require address changes be made in writing with the member’s signature (we’ll accept a fax) but, at least until now, we’ve always changed the member’s mailing address when we receive an address correction from the USPS. We all know that members often fail to advise us of their address changes!

“A recent situation involving a wronglychanged address has caused us to reconsider our address change policies, especially in light of the extreme sensitivity currently over privacy and `personal information’ access.”

The situation was a mixup involving members with the same name.

“In discussing how the circumstances might have been avoided,” Schroth said, “we began to wonder if changing addresses on the basis of a USPS address correction is appropriate (USPS does NOT require identification when one submits an address change!) and, if not, what we might do instead.

“Obviously, sending a notice to the ‘former’ address to advise that the address has been changed won’t work (it will just be redirected to the ‘new’ address). And I’m concerned about taking on the responsibility and/or liability if we establish a practice of proactively calling members to confirm USPS address corrections.

“Even if there were no liability issues, I’m not sure of the value of such a policy, since in the majority of the cases the phone numbers we have may, understandably, no longer be good! Sounds like a labor-intensive quagmire to me.”


Despite potential and past problems, $6.3 billion/ 815,000-member State Employees’ Credit Union, Raleigh N.C., does honor USPS address change notifications.

“This is a `tuffy,'” wrote Sue Douglas, SVP/central services. “We have also been ‘burned’ exactly as you described from address changes. However, we have not only been wrong when we changed an address the USPS gave us, we have also wrongly changed an address that the member gave us.

“When a husband came in to change his address, he just said: `We are moving; here is my new address.’

“He had the address typed on a piece of paper and the member service representative promptly corrected all the accounts in their household. He never mentioned a divorce and she didn’t ask.

“The wife was moving somewhere else (she had not provided us with an address change even though she had come in and opened a new account using the old address!).

“It was an ugly stink especially since the wife was hiding money from the divorce lawyers. We acted in good faith so we were not guilty of anything other than poor service.

“Even with this history, we do honor USPS address changes. We receive over 3,500 a week. I estimate that over 99 percent are correctly changed because the whole household did move and the family expects the post office to forward all their mail.

“Those who are separating their households have a responsibility to tell us before the USPS does if they expect us to do it correctly. We cannot guess what they want us to do.”


Another credit union does not honor USPS notices.

“We do not change the address in our system when we receive the USPS notice,” wrote Sandy Barron, VP/ member services at $169 million/25,000-member Cal State 9 Credit Union, Concord, Calif.

“Anyone can walk into a post office and fill out one of those cards. I have more confidence in my own staffs ability to ID our members than I do in the USPS.

“We memo the account with the ‘new’ USPS supplied address and then mail a change of address form to the member at that address.

“When we get it back, we verify the signature with our file copy,” he added. “If there’s any discrepancy, we follow up. It has added a step, but so far, it has worked well.

“We had a couple identity takeovers a few years ago before we put this into place.

“We don’t know for a fact that this was the weak link, but we are not taking any chances.”

Copyright Credit Union Executives Society Mar 2001

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