The 7 Most Common Postal Scams

Despite the growth of online fraud, there’s no sign of a slowdown in postal scams: Internet Scambusters #429

Outside the fast lane of cybercrime, crooks still use “snail mail” postal scams to target victims.

They direct many of their crimes towards identity theft, but also use well-known con tricks like bogus lottery winnings, advance fee check schemes and phony work-from-home projects.

In this week’s issue, we highlight the 7 most common postal scams and explain what the US Postal Inspection Service is doing to fight these crimes.


The 7 Most Common Postal Scams


While here at Scambusters much of our focus is on Internet fraud, crime’s “snail-mail” cousin, postal scams, still account for a sizeable number of con tricks.

In fact, the United States Postal Service (USPS) operates a full-time department to help customers deal with potential postal fraud.

This department, the United States Postal Inspection Service, has recently launched a mass mail-out of an anti-fraud brochure to every home in the country, to try to raise consumer awareness of the dangers.

Some of the most common types of postal scams include:

1. Fake checks and money orders, usually accompanied by a letter asking the victim to bank the money and wire a portion on to a third party. We know this postal fraud well — the advance fee scam or Nigerian scam — which we have covered in depth in About the Nigerian Scam.

2. Cross-border fraud. This covers both postal and telemarketing scams, usually promoting dubious investments, phony travel deals and any number of bogus products, from pharmaceuticals to “adult” services.

This is such a big and growing crime that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has set up a dedicated website with information and advice.

Global law enforcement agencies have also established an international site dealing with cross-border fraud.

3. Lottery scams. Yes, these bogus announcements that claim you’ve won a fortune on a lottery you didn’t even enter arrive almost as frequently by snail mail as they do in your online inbox.

Lottery scams remain one of the most widespread frauds and, as with their online equivalent, postal scam versions often target older folk. You can read all about them in earlier Scambusters reports: Foreign Lottery Scams.

4. Work from home scams. Although many of these scams originate online, most of them actually involve the postal service.

They include receiving and mailing out checks and goods obtained illegally, ordering supposed training materials for phony jobs, applying for jobs to stuff and mail envelopes, for which victims have to pay an upfront fee for “supplies,” and even getting involved in chain letters and other postal pyramid schemes.

Learn more about work from home scams in these earlier Scambusters issues.

Top 10 Work At Home and Home Based Business Scams

Work At Home Jobs: How to Avoid Getting Scammed

5. Mail theft. This is one of the oldest crimes in the book but it involves more than just crooks opening and emptying your home’s mailbox — it also includes things like theft from postal trucks and sorting offices.

It’s not unknown for thieves to totally remove blue mail collection boxes from street locations.

The crooks want checks, credit cards and account statements they can use for identity theft.

In a single year, US Postal Inspectors arrested over 6,000 mail theft suspects.

You can reduce the risk of becoming a victim of this postal scam by never mailing cash, always emptying your mailbox promptly, sounding the alert if an expected check doesn’t arrive, never leaving outgoing mail in your box overnight, and holding your mail when you’re going away.

You can hold mail easily online now, or by phone. And you can fill out a form for reporting a missing mail item as well.

You can also report mail theft by calling 877-876-2455.

6. Change of address scam. This type of postal fraud comes in two varieties, both of which are used for identity theft:

* In the first instance, a crook changes your address so that all your mail gets diverted to them. They can steal whatever information they need before the victim notices something is wrong.

* More commonly, the scammer has already stolen the victim’s identity and arranges for credit card bills taken out in the victim’s name to go to another address.

The USPS now conducts security checks when notified of an address change, but, if you’re used to getting mail every day, contact them after a couple of empty days.

Monitoring your credit report is the most likely way you’d discover if someone has stolen your identity and is using another address.

Check out our earlier issue, Can You Really Get a Free Credit Report — Without Getting Scammed?, on how to get free copies of your credit report.

7. Failing to safely discard confidential mail and card offers. If you just throw these items into the trash, you’re inviting trouble.

Criminals do hunt through people’s garbage for information they could use for identity theft and will use your “You’ve been pre-approved” credit card invitations to open accounts in your name and then divert the bills to another address, as mentioned in Scam Number 6 above.

Buy a shredder and always thoroughly destroy these documents. We also covered shredding in more detail in an earlier issue, Shredding: A Key Weapon in Your Document Security and Identity Theft Prevention Strategies.

Many people don’t realize that the USPIS is in the vanguard of the fight against scams, both online and offline, especially in the role, like Scambusters, of helping keep people informed.

For instance, they run a weekly half-hour radio show called Don’t Fall For It, which you can hear online.

In our eyes, the more people who join the fight against fraudsters the better. Hopefully, this issue has put you wise to the notion that not all scams are cybercrimes. You must keep your guard up against postal scams too.


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That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!