Is There a Bandit In Your
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
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,
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.
take advantage of your trusting nature,
or appeal to the entrepreneur in you.
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
"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
"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.
- 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
- 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
- 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.
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.