New campaign aims to highlight ongoing mail fraud risks: Internet Scambusters #740
Postal scams and mail fraud were around long before the Internet - and they're still here.
But new campaigns and initiatives aim to target the crooks behind these schemes and bring them to justice.
In this week's issue, we'll explain some of the red flags that point to a postal scam and how you can cut down on the risks they involve.
Let's get started...
Mail Fraudsters Net a Fortune
Although the Internet now accounts for a huge proportion of the scams we witness every day, mail fraudsters are still at work via postal services.
According to the U.S. government's Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB), millions of dollars are being siphoned out of the wallets and bank accounts of mainly older people every year, via their mailbox.
The crooks often use a "trickle" approach of hoodwinking victims out of maybe just $20 or $30 a time. But they're also trying to use "snail mail" to steal personal information such as Social Security numbers.
So, the CFPB has linked up with the seniors-focused group Meals on Wheels America to spread the word about mail fraud and help potential victims identify scam mailshots.
Seniors who receive a meals-on-wheels type service will receive a placemat detailing the most important scam warning signs including:
- Letters announcing the recipient has won a prize or cash.
- Mailshots from psychics promising to predict the future.
- Letters that use the recipient's name, sometimes seemingly hand-written, or other details to make them look more personalized and authentic.
"Don't respond and don't send money," the CFPB warns. "If you're not sure about a letter, show it to someone you trust."
Meanwhile, the Bureau has joined up with a number of other government departments to launch a broader "Mass Mailing Fraud Prevention Initiative."
As part of this, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has posted a page online showing samples of what some of the scam letters and even their envelopes look like.
There's also a useful list of phony business and individual names the department has encountered during investigations of mail fraud.
In September, the Department, along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the U.S. Treasury, announced a tough clamp-down on mail fraudsters.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the DOJ was "determined to hold the perpetrators of these harmful schemes accountable."
She added: "(W)e are committed to protecting our people from exploitation -- especially our older citizens, who are so often the focus of these shameful ruses."
She also announced several actions against alleged mail fraudsters including a mass mailer accused of sending out big-prize announcements and asking for a fee of $20 or $30 for details on how to claim the prizes, which allegedly never turned up.
Although this initiative focuses on the U.S., mail fraud has been named as a major global financial threat by the International Mass-Marketing Fraud Working Group, which also includes Europe and Nigeria as well as North America.
More Postal Scams
Big prizes and predictions of a sparkling future are not the only frauds to hit our postal service either.
All manner of letters turn up in our mailboxes suggesting we need to take some form of action that always starts with paying out money.
Often, these are dressed up, as "fines" for failing to turn up for court, breaking speed restrictions or failing to follow other rules.
For example, in New York, a 10,000-letter mailshot supposedly from the city's "Vermin Control" department told recipients they had violated a control code and had to pay a fine of $120.
By the time the scam was rumbled, more than 100 people had mailed in checks to the alleged crooks' post office box.
Another scam centers on fake letters from banks, similar to those that victims receive via emails or SMS text messages reporting supposed "unusual transactions" involving their account.
In this case, recipients are given a phone number they're supposed to call. They are then, of course, asked for their account details and other security information used to access their accounts.
And in a third scam, a California man admitted in court recently to earning more than $1.5 million by posing as a trademark compliance official. He had offered a trademark registration and monitoring service for $385 -- neither of which he actually provided.
This is a particular scam we here at Scambusters have experienced ourselves with several of our registered trademarks.
As usual, the appropriate action in all the above cases is not to respond to these letters or use the numbers or any other contact information they contain.
Instead, find contact numbers in the phone book or online if you want to check out any claims that involve paying money to an organization you're not familiar with, or giving information about your accounts.
There are many other ways that scammers try to snare you via postal services or directly from your physical mailbox.
We wrote about these in another mail fraud issue a couple of years ago, but they are still operating, so check them out in The 7 Most Common Postal Scams.
Alert of the Week
Scams are like weeds, popping up, removed and then showing up again.
So, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a new warning of a revived scam that uses the Commission's name to "warn" victims that they're being investigated by the FTC or that they're needed as a witness in some case or other.
The message tells recipients to click on a link that installs malware on their PCs.
The FTC doesn't send out emails like this so you can safely delete the message if it drops into your inbox.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!