Postal Inspectors each year arrest nearly 2,000 suspects for mail fraud—and the Inspection Service is just one of many federal agencies that target fraud scams. And although people aged 60 and older account for 26 percent of all telemarketing fraud victims, 60 percent of people in that age group are victims of prize or sweepstakes fraud—which are basically “subcategories” of telemarketing fraud.
That number may sound high, but the actual figure is probably much higher. Victims of prize or sweepstakes fraud often never report it to authorities. It’s embarrassing, even humiliating, to admit you’ve been had.
One way you can help protect elderly family members or other loved ones from unscrupulous con artists is to become aware of the types of scams being used—including phony sweepstakes, “guaranteed” prize schemes, easy credit deals, fake employment advertisements, and bogus money-making opportunities.
The Mail Fraud Statute of 1872 makes it a federal crime to use the U.S. Mail to further a scheme to defraud, and the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill added private carriers to the statute. Legitimate sweepstakes promotions allow anyone to enter and cannot require a purchase or fee as a condition of playing. “Free prize” promotions that ask for shipping or handling charges, registration fees, taxes, auditor’s expenses, or storage fees are against the law. Any high-pressure sales pitch from telephone callers requiring that you decide to make a purchase or investment right away are pretty sure to be bogus. Especially when they offer to send a private courier to pick up a check.
Some state lotteries and games conducted by certain Indian tribes may use the mail to conduct business, but it is illegal for any foreign lottery to solicit business through the mail. Since April of this year, Postal Inspectors, along with agents of the U.S. Customs Service, have seized over 2 million pieces of foreign lottery mail. Postal Inspectors also backed legislation that was passed by the House this year requiring restitution for victims of federal crimes.
By Debbi Baer, Editor, Congressional & Public Affairs
U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Washington, D.C.