Many of the consumers who come to your BBB® bring letters they have received telling them they have won a large sum of money. They want to know if the offers are legitimate. Unfortunately, in most cases, they are not.
The Department of Justice (DOJ), along with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), and other law enforcement partners, issued a Press Release September 22, 2016 about the actions they took against the perpetrators of these schemes which have “defrauded millions of elderly and vulnerable victims across the U.S. out of hundreds of millions of dollars”. The actions include the execution of search warrants, criminal charges, economic sanctions, seizure of criminal proceeds, and civil injunction lawsuits.
U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch said, “Every year, fraudulent mail schemes target millions of Americans with false promises of wealth and riches, swindling hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.” She said further that the Department of Justice is “committed to protecting our people from exploitation—especially our older citizens, who are so often the focus of these shameful ruses.”
According to the Press Release, the mail schemes involve perpetrators all across the world and tend to follow a similar pattern. Fraudulent direct mailing companies create letters falsely claiming that the recipient has won cash, valuable prizes, or will come into good fortune. All the recipients have to do, the letters say, is to send a small amount of money for processing or taxes. The letters are printed on official-looking letterhead paper and appear to be personally addressed, even though they are really just form letters.
The investigation uncovered list brokers who buy, sell, or rent lists of victims from one mailing company to another so that “once a victim has fallen prey to one scheme, others are able to target this victim” according to the Press Release. One such list contained the names and addresses of approximately 750,000 potential victims.
Some of the allegations against the perpetrators include:
- Processing payments for more than 100 different mail fraud campaigns involving tens of millions of dollars
- Sending millions of fraudulent mailings to potential U.S. victims each year and receiving more than $29 million from victims
- Engaging in numerous predatory mail fraud schemes targeting primarily the elderly and vulnerable and receiving approximately $50 to $60 annually from tens of thousands of victims who got nothing in return
- Sending hundreds of thousands of fraudulent notifications every year claiming that recipients won a large cash prize and allegedly grossing roughly $30.4 million since 2012
- Using P.O. boxes in the Netherlands to collect tens of millions of dollars in victim payments for multiple international mail fraud schemes, tracking victims’ information and forwarding proceeds to a payment processing company
- Operating a mass-mailing prize campaign designed to fool recipients into believing that they had won thousands or millions of dollars and advising them to pay a fee of $20 or $30 to claim their winnings but never sending anyone their promised winnings
- Facilitating fraudulent activities on the part of operations that mailed deceptive solicitations relating to sweepstakes and psychics
- Sending deceptive mailings from the so-called “Numerological Resource Center and maintaining lists of vulnerable people who fell prey to the schemes and marketing the lists to other mass mailers.
The DOJ has started a mass mailing fraud prevention initiative. Click here to read tips on how to recognize fraudulent mass mailing letters, to see a copy of such a letter, to see mass mailings received by just one victim, and to see a list of fictitious names DOJ has noted from mass mailing fraud campaigns they have investigated.
For more information you can trust, check out our articles on mail fraud on our Consumer Education blog; see Related Posts below for more information.