Alarming rise in mailbox crime and flood of junk mail: Internet Scambusters #1,010
Mail thieves, scammers, and junk mailers all want to get their hands on your money.
They're succeeding on a large scale and millions of dollars are being lost or wasted in the process.
In this week's issue, we explore the scale of this costly nuisance and give you 10 tips on how to protect yourself.
Let's get started…
How To Beat Mailbox Thieves, Scammers, and Junk Mailers
Your mailbox is a sitting target for scammers, thieves, and anyone who wants to sell you anything (aka junk mail).
You probably already know that. But what can you do about it?
The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) has recently reported an alarming rise in theft of mail pieces.
Thousands of stolen checks and even stolen mailbox keys are currently being offered for sale on the dark web and some online forums. Crooks use nail polish cleaner to remove the name of the payee on checks so buyers can insert a new name.
Last year, USPIS reported receiving almost 300,000 mail theft and 40,000 mail-related check fraud complaints in the prior twelve months.
And then there's junk mail.
Over one hundred billion pieces of it are delivered in the US every year, which works out at just short of one item every day for every single one of us.
Insurance and credit card offers, catalogs, donation request letters from charities, and "free" meal invitations to financial presentations are the main culprits. Although they're not illegal (though some charitable requests are), they're often cunningly written to imply there's a special deal waiting just for you.
Apart from the huge environmental impact of churning out this stuff -- 111 million trees cut down each year and $250 million spent on recycling -- there's also a huge cost in terms of scam victims.
Mostly, the swindles are similar to those you encounter online. For example: you've been fined for failing to report for jury duty or running a red light; you owe money to the IRS; or you've won on a lottery.
Villains may find that using snail mail can be more effective than email or text messages because victims are more likely to believe that a written, hand-delivered communication is genuine.
They exploit innovative technology to make their letters seem more convincing. For example, they're able to personalize letters on a mass scale, using computers to insert not only the target's name but also other information about the recipient that suggests their message is authentic.
Technology enables them to target their victims more precisely. The scammers use stolen data to increase their chances of success. If you like to play online poker or some other form of gambling, you're probably more likely to get a letter saying you've won the lottery.
Last month, three New Yorkers pleaded guilty to netting more than $4 million from a mass mailing telling victims they'd won cash but had to pay fees to collect it.
The postal service is also used directly in the commission of crimes, such as delivering dud checks for advance payment frauds, redirecting your mail, and those thefts from mailboxes.
10 Key Actions
So, what can you do to protect yourself from the scammers, thieves and junk mail merchants?
Here are ten key actions:
- If your mailbox is not lockable, empty it as soon as possible or have mail delivered to a PO Box.
- If you lose your mailbox key, have your mail held until you change the lock if it's a personal box, or notify your local postal service immediately if it's one of their cluster boxes.
- If you're mailing a check and worry about leaving it in your mailbox for collection, take it to the nearest post office and hand it to the clerk (or even just pop it into their mailbox).
- Don't assume that a mail piece is genuine just because it's addressed to you and includes personal information or uses official-looking logos. Check it out by using online contact details.
- Be aware that your junk mail is just that. You haven't been specially selected and you're not getting special treatment just for being you.
- Never pay to collect supposed winnings.
- Register with the Direct Marketing Association's DMAchoice opt-out service to remove your name from mailing lists -- though this won't stop the scammers! You'll have to pay a couple of dollars, but you'll be saving some trees too!
- Register with OptOutPrescreen.com to opt out of credit card and insurance offers. (You can also opt back in if you wish!)
- Visit the non-profit CatalogChoice.org to learn how to stop other types of junk mail.
- If you believe you are a victim of mail fraud or theft, notify USPIS immediately.
In a recent statement to the NPR radio service, USPIS said it "takes seriously its role to safeguard America and will continue to aggressively pursue perpetrators that use the U.S. mail system to further their illegal activity."
That's good to know, but when it comes to mail fraud and junk mail, it's also down to you to be on your guard.
This Week's Scam Alerts
Fake Pop-up: Beware those Internet pages that allow you to sign in or register using an existing sign-on you already use with the likes of Facebook, Apple, Google, and so-on. A fake that identically mimics these "Sign on with…" pop-ups is, well, popping up all over the web. A password manager will spot them. Otherwise, try dragging the pop-up to the edge of your browser. You can't do that with a fake.
Phony Flutter: If you enjoy a "flutter" -- betting on a sports game -- you may be tempted to pay a tipster who claims to have inside knowledge. Scammers are posing as experts offering money-back guarantees based on a supposed great track record of success. You pay, you may or may not win, but you certainly won't get your money back.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!