It’s not clear how frequently mail forwarding fraud is happening in the country because Canada Post refuses to release details about its occurrence.
Mail forwarding is a service that allows people to redirect their mail when they move. Fraud occurs when someone forwards another person’s mail in an attempt to gather their personal information and steal their identity, allowing the fraudster to apply for credit in the unsuspecting person’s name.
CBC News has spent the past two years trying to obtain information about mail forwarding fraud from Canada Post, but the Crown corporation has refused to disclose the number of complaints and cases it deals with each year. It has cited several reasons, including concerns that disclosing the information “could reasonably be expected to facilitate the commission of an offence.”
Michael Karanicolas, president of the Right to Know Coalition of Nova Scotia, said the information should be released.
“It’s very difficult to fathom what legitimate harm could flow from broad statistics like that other than harm to reputation or embarrassment on behalf of government and that is absolutely not a legitimate reason to withhold information,” he said.
In July 2017, CBC published a story about a Nova Scotia man whose identity was stolen through mail forwarding fraud. The victim only became aware of the fraud when he received a notice in the mail from Canada Post, addressed to himself and a man he didn’t know, confirming his mail would be redirected.
CBC filed an access-to-information request in August 2017 asking Canada Post for the number of complaints and confirmed cases of mail forwarding fraud, as well as guidelines on procedures and policies to be followed when mail forwarding fraud is reported.
The following month, Canada Post sent a response saying that information was being withheld. It said the information “is sensitive to Canada Post as it relates to vulnerabilities of particular systems” and because the records contained personal information.
“The clear implication from their initial response is that they did not take the first application for information seriously,” said Karanicolas.
In October 2017, CBC filed a complaint with the Information Commissioner of Canada.
What Canada Post provided
In June 2019, Canada Post provided a revised response with 676 pages of redacted information, as well as 30 pages of a partially redacted presentation on mail forwarding fraud mitigation that was prepared for the company’s CEO. Even the table of contents was partially redacted. The revised response did not include mail forwarding fraud statistics.
Canada Post’s additional reasons for not releasing the requested information included that it “contains trade secrets or financial, commercial, scientific or technical information that belongs to, and consistently has been treated as confidential by the Canada Post Corporation.”
Karanicolas said the exceptions cited by Canada Post are being applied too broadly.
CBC also requested reports and audits on mail forwarding fraud, but Canada Post said it doesn’t audit the mail forwarding process.
Tom Urbaniak, a political science professor at Cape Breton University, said if the fraud numbers are concerning, that’s all the more reason for Canada Post to reveal the information.
He said that would have provoked public discussion and would have prompted policymakers to look at what additional systems and checks and balances should be put in place to prevent mail forwarding fraud from occurring.
“It would be analogous to saying that the public should not receive reports about the frequency of other crimes because that might give ideas to potential criminals,” said Urbaniak, adding that information is a critical tool for policy makers and community crime prevention.
On its website, Canada Post says when customers purchase the mail forwarding service, their identity is validated through an authentication process using the customer’s credit card information. If the customer’s identity cannot be validated, the site says the customer still has the option to purchase the service online, but their identify will be verified at a post office by using government-issued customer identification.
Urbaniak said there may be security and commercial issues behind the decision not to release the information, but he still thinks it’s in the public interest to release the numbers.
Karanicolas said Canada Post’s response to the access-to-information requests points to a bigger problem.
“It is certainly in line with a broader resistance to transparency and disclosure that we see across both the federal and provincial governments, in terms of the exceptions themselves,” he said.