Mailbox flimflams


POSTED: Saturday, May 09, 2009

Question: I recently received several letters saying I have won X amount of money. Can you kindly let me know whether they are gimmicks? If so, we should let the public know to beware of these letters.

Answer: They are “;gimmicks,”; but whether they're fraudulent is something the U.S. Postal Inspection Service can help determine.

In the case of the letters you shared with us, all seem to indicate you've won up to $2.1 million.

But in their confusing explanations, capitalizations, underlining, exclamation points and exhortations, all they are promising you in return for a check (for $19.99, $21.96, $29.99, fill in the blank) is the possibility of winning something. Exactly what is not clear, but it's unlikely it's the $2.1 million, $1.25 million, $1.4 million or $612,444 that's flaunted.

Basically, if you receive something in the mail asking for money for something that should be free, it's fraud, said Hilary Smith, spokeswoman for the Postal Inspection Service in San Francisco.

She noted “;sweepstakes advertising”; is just a “;different kind”; of various deceptive lures sent through the mail.

“;Some of these mailings will say you're not going to win anything, this is not a government document, but it will say that in really small font or be in a color the eye doesn't detect as well, like yellow or light pink,”; Smith said. “;Those are still illegal because the (Postal Service's) Domestic Mail Manual requires that those statements (should) look a certain way so that they're easily identifiable by the reader.”;

Those enticing, confusing solicitations target seniors and the homebound as well as relatively naive people, she said.

“;With the economic climate today, people are more desperate to try their hand at free money, unfortunately,”; she said.

Smith said the problem not only is that you won't get what you're led to believe you're in line to get, but that you are providing personal identifying information and bank account information via your checks.

“;You could open yourself up to identity theft and check and credit card fraud and things like that in addition to being on what we call the 'sucker list,'”; Smith warned.

She speculated you may have responded to one of the solicitations, prompting the others to be sent.

“;It is a form of mail fraud, and this is something that we can investigate,”; she said.

A good portion of these solicitations is generated by operators outside the United States, so it's “;very difficult to catch them, because we have limited authority outside the United States,”; she said.

“;So, what we like to do is to use administrative procedures to stop the mail coming in,”; Smith said.

That begins with asking victims to provide the mailers they've received so that postal inspectors know what they look like and to intercept them when they enter the U.S.

While anyone who receives a suspicious piece of mail can file a complaint online (postalinspectors., what postal inspectors prefer is the actual mailing.

To send in suspicious letters, Smith said to first get a mail fraud complaint form at your local post office.

“;The online complaint form doesn't allow you to do that (submit the letters), so going to the local post office is really the best thing to do,”; she said.

Smith acknowledged that “;fraudsters”; continually “;change the way a mail piece looks ... and they find a new way to get in. That's why we're always soliciting victims to send in mail pieces they get.”;

If you don't want to bother sending in the solicitations, Smith suggested “;just shredding them.”;

“;My recommendation to people caring for elderly or homebound or disabled adults that get mail is to put a shredder or some sort of bin by the front door so that if the person they're caring for gets mail, they just put it into the shredder or bin,”; Smith said. “;That way it never makes it into the house.”;



I received a letter postmarked St. Louis concerning my reverse mortgage, which I don't have. I don't know how they obtained my name, address, bank and loan amount (which was not correct). It said to call (800) 462-3118.

Please warn your readers to beware of this ploy.—George

An Internet search revealed other people flagging that number, which is for a telemarketing call center for a mortgage refinancing company.