How to Avoid Mail Fraud

Two Parts:Preventing Mail FraudReporting Mail Fraud

Mail fraud occurs when someone devises a scheme to defraud another individual by sending something through the mail.[1] Often, the scheme will attempt to get money or something else of value from you by offering a product, service, or investment opportunity that does not actually exist. People conducting mail fraud usually rely on the same tricks over and over.[2] Therefore, if you know what to look for, you can easily avoid mail fraud. In addition, if you think you have been the victim of mail fraud, you can report it to the federal government.

Part 1
Preventing Mail Fraud

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    Examine common practices. Regardless of the type of mail fraud taking place, all of them usually ask for money or personal information. If you receive a mailing that does not look familiar, read through it and look for common fraudulent practices. If you see something that usually occurs in fraudulent mailings, be suspicious. For example, fraudulent mailings commonly:
    • Require you to pay "insurance", "processing", or "service" fees.
    • Ask you to provide someone with personal information, including Social Security numbers and credit card information.
    • Promise things that are too good to be true (e.g., unreasonable returns on investments, loans for people with bad credit).
    • Pressure you into making decisions quickly (e.g., require that you respond to the mailing within a matter of days).[3]
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    Research questionable mailings. If you get a mailing that looks out of the ordinary, do some research. A lot of fraudulent mailings will be disguised to look like something legitimate. For example, some fraudsters will make their mailings look identical to official government documents. In another common scenario, fraudsters will disguise their scheme as a legitimate invoice (e.g., an outstanding bill).[4] If you get one of these mailings:
    • Do a quick online search to see if anyone else has gotten them. Describe the mailing in your search and include the word "fraud." There are websites dedicated to people who report questionable mailings.
    • Search online to verify the accuracy of the information in the mailing. For example, if the mailing provides an address, consider searching for the address online and see what comes up.
    • Call the number on the mailing. If a phone number is provided, call and question their intentions. If you do speak with someone, try to gauge their demeanor. Are they nervous? Are they pushy? Are they rude? If you do speak with someone, never give out any personal information.
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    Pinpoint common schemes. In addition to common practices, fraudsters usually utilize the same schemes over and over again. If you get a piece of mail you suspect may be fraud, analyze it and see if it fits within one of the following categories:[5]
    • Sweepstakes and 'free' prizes
    • 'Free' vacations
    • Solicitations disguised as invoices
    • Foreign lotteries
    • Chain letters
    • Charity fraud
    • Investment fraud
    • Fees charged for services that are normally free
    • Advance-fee loans
    • Unsolicited merchandise
    • Fake check scams
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    Keep track of your purchases. Don't fall for fraudsters who disguise their solicitations as invoices. Often, people will try to get you to buy something by making their mailing look like a bill. They are hoping you will automatically pay and think you placed an order but forgot about it. Always read the fine print. Most of these mailings will state they are solicitations but will do so in small print on the bottom of the mailing.
    • Never make a payment until you have verified whether you actually ordered something. If you haven't ordered the item it says you did, or if you haven't received the item it says you did, do not pay.[6]
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    Donate to reputable charities only. A lot of fraudsters will take advantage of your good will and will ask you to donate to phony charities. This type of mail fraud often takes place after a natural disaster or some other event that the country rallies behind. To avoid this type of fraud, only give to charities you know and trust.
    • Check out the charities you don't know. Look online to determine what they are about. Beware of organizational names that are similar (but not the same) to reputable charities.
    • Do not donate to charities that only accept cash.
    • If you do write a check, always make it payable to the organization and not to an individual.[7]
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    Analyze investment solicitations. Avoid investment solicitations you get in the mail that promise unreasonable returns on your investments. Fraudulent promoters will try to get you to invest a lot of money in bogus vehicles (e.g., fake securities, commodities, or property). If you can answer "yes" to any of the following questions, you may be dealing with mail fraud:
    • Does the mailing make it sound as if you cannot lose?
    • Are you promised unusually high rates of return?
    • Are you pressured into making a decision quickly?[8]
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    Watch for loan opportunities. If you have trouble obtaining loans through normal means, you may get targeted for advance-fee loan schemes. These mailings will offer you "guaranteed" loans so long as you pay a fee in advance. The mailing will usually tell you they can obtain a loan for you without a problem. In reality, the person has no such ability. If you pay the fee, the fraudster will take your money and not return any phone calls.
    • Only enter into loan agreements with reputable lending institutions (e.g., banks and credit unions).
    • Always read and understand the terms of your loan before signing. Never allow someone to choose and enter into a loan for you.[9]
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    Keep unsolicited merchandise. A lot of mail fraud takes the form of unsolicited gifts, which are sent to you with the hope you will pay a fee for it. If you receive a free gift in the mail that you did not ask for, you can do any of the following:
    • If it has not been opened, you can simply return it.
    • If you have opened it but do not want the gift, you can simply throw it away.
    • If you want to keep the gift, you can do so. For free. Do not send any money to the person who sent the gift. Unsolicited merchandise is yours to keep.[10]

Part 2
Reporting Mail Fraud

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    Keep suspicious mailings. If you have fallen victim to mail fraud, or if you would simply like to report it, keep the mailings in question as evidence of the fraud. The mailing will help you down the road when it is time to describe your problem to the government.
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    Take detailed notes. Did you contact someone regarding the mailing? Did you send someone money? Did you respond to the mailing in some other way? Did you get follow-up correspondence? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, try to take detailed notes of all your dealings with the person on the other end of the mailings. When it comes time to report the fraud, you will want to provide the government with as many details as possible.
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    Visit the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) website. Mail fraud is a federal crime because it involves the use of the U.S. Postal Service, which is a federal agency. The U.S. Postal Service has their own law enforcement arm called the USPIS. If you suspect mail fraud has occurred, the USPIS is the agency that will investigate your case. The USPIS will investigate complaints and will share their findings with other appropriate agencies. In some cases, individuals will be prosecuted criminally or will be subject to administrative proceedings.
    • If you think you have been the victim of mail fraud, you can access complaint resources on the USPIS website. Once at their homepage, hover above the "investigations" button, the "mail fraud" button, and then click on "file a mail fraud complaint."[11]
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    File an online complaint. Once you click on the "file" button, you will be taken to an online interactive form. Fill out the information and click "submit." The form will ask you for the following information:[12]
    • Your personal information
    • Information about the person or organization you are filing a complaint about
    • Information about how you were contacted (i.e., through the mail) and whether you still have the envelope
    • Information about markings on the envelope, including permit numbers and postage meter numbers
    • Information about how you responded to the mailing, whether you received anything, and whether you lost money
    • The type of fraud you suspect occurred (e.g., charity fraud, investment fraud, unsolicited merchandise)
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    Call and report the fraud. If you do not have access to a computer, you can call 1-877-876-2455. You will then press "4" to report suspected mail fraud.[13] You will need to be able to include all of the information that you would in an online complaint.
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    Mail in a paper complaint. If you have additional documents you would like to send along with your complaint, you may want to send your complaint through the mail. For example, if you would like to send USPIS the envelope and mailing you received, this may be a great option. To mail a complaint, type up a formal letter outlining the same information asked for on the online complaint form. Put the complaint form, along with any additional information, in an envelope with the appropriate postage.
    • You can send the complaint to the "Criminal Investigations Service Center, Attn: Mail Fraud, 222 S. Riverside Plz, Suite 1250, Chicago, IL, 60606-6100."

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Categories: Criminal and Penal Law Procedure