Imagine you just got your daily mail from your mailbox. As you sort through each piece, tossing the grocery store coupons into a separate pile, you come across a letter that looks official. The outside of the envelope even says Official Mail.
You open the envelope, and the letter claims you’ve been selected to enter an exclusive sweepstakes drawing with a $10,000 cash prize. All you have to do to enter the contest is fill out a form that asks for your full name and Social Security number.
Wait! Is this a scam or the real thing? How can you tell?
Actually, it’s pretty easy when you know what to look for. Let’s dig in.
What Is Mail Fraud?
Put simply, mail fraud is when a deceitful activity is done with the use of the United States Postal Service (USPS) or a private mail carrier (UPS, FedEx, etc.). It’s typically some kind of scheme to get money from you by offering a product, service, prize or investment opportunity that doesn’t exist.
The use of the USPS or a private carrier in identity theft schemes can be incidental. That means that using the mail doesn’t necessarily have to be a key part of the scheme for it to be considered mail fraud. It can be a single postcard at the end of the scheme or a series of letters to start the scheme.
Types of Mail Fraud
Gotta admit, it’s remarkable how many creative schemes criminals have come up with to swindle you out of your money. Be on the lookout for the most common tricks.
Employment fraud is when job seekers are specifically targeted with false hope about a money-making opportunity. Typical employment scams include pyramid schemes, check-cashing schemes and phony job offers. The fraudster usually requests personal information in exchange for the bogus opportunity.
Telemarketing fraud usually starts with a postcard or letter that claims a once-in-a-lifetime offer that can be redeemed by calling a toll-free 800 number. When you call, the telemarketer uses a genuine-sounding sales pitch and high-pressure methods to trick you into handing over your bank information.
Financial fraud is when financial transactions are used for personal gain. For example, if you get an offer for a new credit card without a credit check or an advance on a loan, it’s probably a scam. Be wary.
Fraud Against Older Americans
While people of all ages can fall for a phony offer, retirees are more impacted than others. For example, a common scheme is to contact older Americans, tell them a loved one is in jail and needs bail money, and where to wire the funds.
Fraud Against Veterans
Military men and women are often more vulnerable to imposters making false claims about benefits, employment and special discounts. A common trick is to pretend to be a fellow member of the military and claim they need to update their records with, among other details, the victim’s current banking information.
Sweepstakes and Lottery Fraud
This one seems to lure even the most skeptical among us. Who doesn’t want to win a prize, right? But false claims that you’ve won something, and you must send money to collect your prize, usually means that you haven’t really won anything. Beware!
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How to Protect Yourself Against Mail Fraud
We put together some easy ways to keep yourself safe from mail fraud.
- Never give out your financial information to someone you don’t know or trust. This includes your Social Security number, credit cards and bank account numbers.
- Never feel pressured to make an immediate decision about entering a contest or making a purchase. Get all the information you need first, and then do some online research before you agree to anything.
- Look for grammar or spelling mistakes. Legitimate offers are usually proofread before they’re sent out.
- Do online research on whatever company is making the offer. There are some helpful online advocacy groups you can check like the Better Business Bureau, State Attorney General’s Office, and the Federal Trade Commission.
- Discuss any promotion, offer or donation request you receive with a trusted friend or relative before you agree to send a payment.
- Make it a habit to read the fine print of every offer that’s sent to you. Fraudsters usually include the catch somewhere in their offer—look for it.
Get Full Identity-Theft Security
Even if you’re cautious about protecting your personal information, criminals are continually coming up with new and inventive ways to steal your identity—it’s hard to keep up! But there’s a smart way to proactively safeguard yourself from mail fraud and stolen identity.
Take our identity theft risk assessment.
We recommend identity theft protection from Zander, a RamseyTrusted provider. They’ll monitor all your devices and notify you when/if they’re at risk and provide complete recovery services if needed.