Friday, March 28, 2014

Postmaster warns of mail fraud scams

Con artists often target the elderly for illicit donations


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Ketchum Postmaster John McDonald talks about how scams utilizing the U.S. mail are becoming more prevalent, both nationally and locally. Photo by Roland Lane

     It typically starts with an unsolicited email, telephone call or request through the mail. Someone you don’t know claims they have an emergency—they can’t feed their kids, they have enormous medical bills, they’re about to be evicted from their home—and they ask you for financial help.

     If you send them money, even if it’s only $20, the requests for donations intensifies. Word seems to get around to others claiming to be in need and the scam perpetuates itself.

     Ketchum Postmaster John McDonald said in an interview Thursday that a local elderly man recently ended up giving $81,000 to people claiming to be in need. McDonald said the man, who really couldn’t afford the loss, unfortunately got scammed.

     “The amount of money that I know has been lost locally amazes me,” said McDonald, estimating that the loss locally has been between $130,000 and $150,000. “And that’s only what’s been reported to me within the past two years.”

     McDonald said that nationally, as well as locally, the number of scams aimed at well-intentioned people, those who are willing to help others during a crisis, is reaching epidemic proportions.

     “These people are hitting hundreds of thousands of people every day,” McDonald said. “Anytime there’s hard times, these people come out of the woodwork. If it’s a sad story, it’s usually a scam. Their victims are primarily the elderly, but no one is immune.

     “They give stories so wild and these elderly people feel sorry for them,” McDonald said. “And once someone gives, they pass your name around and you get more calls. These people must have a network.

     “These people don’t have real problems. These people are scam artists—that’s all they are.”

     Nearly always, McDonald said, the scammers want funds sent by express mail, either in the form of a money order or cash. He said scammers avoid electronic transactions because the transaction can be easily traced.

     Once the U.S. mail is used, either to solicit illicit funds or to receive illicit funds, a mail fraud federal crime has been committed.

     McDonald said the U.S. Postal Service is very concerned about the prevalence of scams involving the mail, but that there are so many con artists and different types of scams these days that it’s difficult to shut down or prosecute them all.

     “We’ve got hundreds of inspectors working on this,” McDonald said. But even catching a scammer can be difficult, he said, because they frequently change addresses to stay ahead of authorities.

     “These people are in and out of court, but they make so much money they can afford a good attorney,” McDonald said.

     The postmaster advises consumers to never give out telephone numbers, email addresses, credit card numbers or personal information unless the consumer is 100 percent confident of the legitimacy of where the information is going.

     “The bottom line is that you check out anyone you send donations to and make sure they are honest and legitimate,” he said.

     During National Consumer Protection Week earlier this month, the U.S. Postal Service placed special emphases on informing the public about sweepstakes or lottery scams that are now becoming more prevalent. The Postal Service especially cautioned consumers about getting involved in foreign lotteries, which are often illegal in the United States. The Postal Service advises that by law, sweepstake sponsors must state in their solicitations that no purchase is necessary to win and that making a purchase will not increase the odds of winning.

     “If you have to pay to play, it’s a scam,” McDonald said.


Mail fraud

The U.S. Postal Service advises that if mail has been used in a crime, regardless of whether the crime was initiated on the Internet, on the phone or in person, it should be reported to postal inspectors at (877) 876-2455 or www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov.




About Comments

Comments with content that seeks to incite or inflame may be removed.

Comments that are in ALL CAPS may be removed.

Comments that are off-topic or that include profanity or personal attacks, libelous or other inappropriate material may be removed from the site. Entries that are unsigned or contain signatures by someone other than the actual author may be removed. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or any other policies governing this site. Use of this system denotes full acceptance of these conditions. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

The comments below are from the readers of mtexpress.com and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing, Inc.

You may flag individual comments. You may also report an inappropriate or offensive comment by clicking here.

Flagging Comments: Flagging a comment tells a site administrator that a comment is inappropriate. You can find the flag option by pointing the mouse over the comment and clicking the 'Flag' link.

Flagging a comment is only counted once per person, and you won't need to do it multiple times.

Proper Flagging Guidelines: Every site has a different commenting policy - be sure to review the policy for this site before flagging comments. In general these types of comments should be flagged:

  • Spam
  • Ones violating this site's commenting policy
  • Clearly unrelated
  • Personal attacks on others
Comments should not be flagged for:
  • Disagreeing with the content
  • Being in a dispute with the commenter

Popular Comment Threads





Copyright © 2014 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.