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September 1997
FTC Consumer Alert

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Postal Service will deliver more than 180 billion pieces of mail this year, including some interesting, appealing, and attractive solicitations. Unfortunately, some of these solicitations come from scam artists.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) say the mailbox bandits lurking behind these solicitations are after only one thing — your money.And many are using approaches that
tug at your heartstrings,
take advantage of your trusting nature,
or appeal to the entrepreneur in you
The two federal agencies suggest that consumers could beat the bandits at their own game if they recognize the lines they use — and if they practice some defensive moves.

For example, you may find these lines in your mailbox:

"You are a guaranteed winner of one of five valuable prizes!" A prize often is used as the bait for an investment in products like low-quality vitamins, ineffective home water purifiers, or alarm systems. The amount of money you send back always exceeds the value of the prize being offered.

"You have been selected to receive a fabulous vacation!" Just send a membership fee to receive the "dream" vacation. Look for scheduling problems, nonexistent cruises, shabby hotels, and fly-by-night airlines....

"Stuff envelopes at home and earn BIG $$$!" Few companies hire individuals to provide this service. When you send your money for the plan to operate this business — itís likely that youíll receive a Ďplaní that doesnít really apply to this opportunity and an order for high-priced samples that youíll have no choice about using.

"This chain letter is perfectly legal!" All chain letters are illegal. Itís that simple. The people who make big bucks from chain letters are the organizers — the people at the top of the list. Everyone else loses.

"Your humble assistance is highly solicited in transferring millions of dollars, available from the National Petroleum Company of (name of country), to share with your good self. All we need is your bank account number." The invitation to "launder" foreign money is a solicitation to commit a crime, and it doesnít stop here. Once the foreign-based scam artists receive your bank account number, they usually ask for money in advance to "assist" the transfer. Consumers lose two ways — by sending the requested money and by providing scam artists access to their bank accounts.

The Best Defense
The FTC and USPIS advise you to be skeptical about all mail solicitations, including those delivered by private carrier that might be marked as priority delivery. Private carriers are covered in the U.S. mail fraud law.
  • Donít pay for a free gift.
  • If the mailing asks for money or an up-front fee for a prize or contest, donít do it. You donít have to pay to play.
  • If a solicitation urges you to use a private courier to send payment, toss it.
  • If a solicitation looks like a government document, and says itís a government document, pitch it. The federal government does not solicit.
  • If you respond, document your transactions. Keep the mailing envelopes from solicitors to prove that the mails were used.
  • Never provide credit card or bank account numbers to any solicitor.
  • Before you send any money for any product or service, check out the company with the attorney general in your state or the state where the company is located. This is not foolproof:
     there may be no record of complaints if a company is too new or has changed its name.
If you believe you have been scammed, contact your local postmaster, or call the toll-free Postal Crime Hotline at 1-800-654-8896.

For a complete list of free consumer publications from the Federal Trade Commission, write:

Consumer Response Center
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580

The information for this page is from an FTC Consumer Alert bulletin.

Additional excellent consumer information can be found at the Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Alerts! page.

"Hey! I don't get it! All that stuff is about ’paper mail’!! I thought pages in this section were supposed to be about INTERNET safety!"

Many of the same scams perpetrated through the U.S. Mail are now being sent through e-mail. Only nowadays, via mass SPAMMING techniques, the crooks can do it much more cheaply! Be an alert consumer.

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Developer: Richard M. Hamilton, OUPD