People running mail fraud schemes are getting smarter, using sophisticated technology and old-fashioned cunning to dupe Washington residents out of millions of dollars a year, according to a Seattle postal inspector.
James Bordenet, who gave a series of Spokane workshops this week to help mail users avoid fraud, said Washington state victims are being targeted by hundreds of scheme-planners across the globe.
“Most of them are from overseas, but they’re also using bases in Florida, Canada and Los Angeles,” Bordenet said.
Some are using time-honored scams such as bait and switch or credit card thefts.
But many now are using databases with highly detailed profiles of potential victims. And they combine them with automatic phone-calling software or other ways to make frequent pitches to their intended victims.
“You’ll see a lot of those scams combining mail and phone fraud,” said Sally Sterling, director of the consumer services division for the Washington attorney general’s office.
“First, they mail out statements telling people about a great deal, then they follow up with phone calls,” Sterling said.
That approach has two advantages, she said. It softens the resistance of the targeted victim, and it also makes prosecuting for fraud more difficult.
What may be obviously illegal if offered in print is harder to establish if made over a phone line, Sterling said.
Scammers use targeted lists that they get from a variety of sources. Some are “sucker lists” - a compilation of people who’ve been taken in by other schemes.
But many swindlers obtain legal lists of customers who shop at some well-known store. Then they call or contact a person by mail, offering special deals or other incentives to part with money.
“It’s bad stuff out there,” said Sterling, whose office often works with the U.S. Postal Service to handcuff fraud perpetrators.
Such schemes continue targeting seniors as the most likely victims of phone or mail fraud, Bordenet said.
And the two most common types of fraud are sweepstakes and foreign lottery scams, he said.
In the sweepstakes offer, consumers are told they’ll win valuable prizes if they submit their names to a contest. Later, they’re notified they’ve won a major prize, but have to send money - from $20 on up - to claim it.
Always, the prize they get is worth very little, Sterling said.
The foreign lottery scam involves offers of “can’t miss” ways of winning multimillion-dollar cash prizes.
The intended victim is asked to send several thousand dollars to join a consortium of players who will buy enough lottery tickets to guarantee a winning-number combination.
After losing thousands on such scams, older residents often end up getting burned another time by “reloading” schemes, said Bordenet.
The “reloaders” call someone who’s been bilked in a recent scam and offer, out of sympathy, to recover some or all of the lost money. But first more money must be sent; that money, like the amount lost earlier, disappears.
Bordenet’s two days of fraud information were presented as part of the Postal Service’s consumer awareness week.
He said Spokane postal inspectors receive 20 to 30 pieces of mail each week from people suspicious of the legitimacy or origin of the offer.
Inspectors make inquiries or refer those pieces of mail to other investigators in half of those cases, he said.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TIPS TO HELP AVOID MAIL FRAUD Postal inspectors urge residents to follow some basic advice to reduce instances of mail fraud: Don’t leave outgoing, paid bills in outside doors or mailboxes. Thieves are known to steal checks, erase the amount and recipient, and substitute their own amounts. Avoid any “free prize” contest that requires paying a fee or tax. Ask for details in writing before accepting any offer. Don’t give credit card numbers or checking account numbers to anyone. If in doubt, check with the nearest Better Business Bureau to find out if a company making an offer has a good track record.