Mail Safety...


Is There a Bandit In Your Mailbox?


September 1997
FTC Consumer Alert

Washington, D.C. ó 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 ó 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 ó 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 ó 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 ó 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 ó 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.
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.