to Catch the Bandit in Your Mailbox
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the U.S. Postal
Inspection Service (USPIS), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and your state
Attorney General want you to know how to catch the bandit in your mailbox
-- a scam artist
who sends you fraudulent offers that are too good to be true. Most mailbox scams are
variations on a theme. They usually promise easy money or "guarantee" that
you'll win a "fabulous" prize or vacation. The FTC suggests you toss any mail
that fits these descriptions:
- An offer for a "free," "prepaid" or
"special" magazine subscription. It will end up costing you years of monthly
payments for magazines you don't want and could get elsewhere for less.
- A postcard that never mentions subscriptions but entices
you to call a telephone number about a contest, prize or sweepstakes. You'll pay for a
"900" toll call and get a sales pitch for magazine subscriptions. The
merchandise you are required to buy often cost far more than your guaranteed
- An announcement that you're the winner of a free vacation
trip and just have to pay a service fee. "Free" is not the same as
"fee." More than likely, your "dream" vacation ends up a nightmare.
- A check that, if cashed, automatically signs you up to be
billed for products and services you may not want or need, such as Internet access or
membership in a Web directory.
- A solicitation for a foreign lottery ticket or a secret
system to make sure you win. It's illegal to buy cross-border lottery tickets by mail or
phone. What's more, why would a stranger share a secret with you, especially by mail? Even
worse, these bandits sell lists of names of people who have been conned before because the
chances are they'll take the bait again.
- An invitation to join a pyramid scheme that offers
commissions for recruiting distributors, not for making sales. Without new distributors,
the pyramid collapses and only those at the very top make any money. Pyramids are illegal.
- An advance fee loan or credit card offer that guarantees
credit with no check on your financial history. A legitimate creditor would never make
promises like this and you'll pay assorted fees totaling hundreds of dollars.
- A slick pitch for credit repair at a price. Federal law
prohibits upfront fees for credit repair. The truth is you can help yourself to rebuild a
better credit record. Only time, a deliberate effort, and a personal debt repayment plan
will improve your credit.
- An appeal for a phony charity that sounds like a legitimate
one. It will give a P.O. Box instead of a street address and phone number and a sad story
to snag your sympathy.
- A mailing that looks like an official government document
that suggests contest winnings, unclaimed assets or other forms of instant wealth are
waiting for you for a small fee. The government does not solicit money from citizens.
- Solicitation for a product or service you've never heard of
that asks for your credit card or bank account number. Check out any unfamiliar product or
service with the Better Business Bureau or Attorney General in your state or where the
organization is located. Never give out financial information unless you know exactly
where it's going.
To report mail fraud, contact your state Attorney General,
call your local postmaster or the toll-free Mail Fraud
Complaint Center at 1-800-372-8347, or visit the
Postal Service website at
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER