WASHINGTON — As it competes to deliver packages via “snail mail,” the U.S. Postal Service is stepping up efforts to warn about fraud on the front end via the Internet.
The USPS recently joined with law enforcement and industry groups to help call attention to Web-based scams. Its Postal Inspection Service has placed magazine ads warning people to be on guard while buying gifts and other goods online.
Postal Inspection Service spokesman Paul Krenn said such technology-oriented initiatives are leading some consumers to think differently about the Postal Service, an independent federal agency.
“Many times in the phone conversations I have, people will ask, `Why is the Postal Service involved with the Internet?”’ Krenn said. “There’s a strong linkage people don’t realize. As people are buying products (on the Web), there has to be a physical means of delivery.”
The service has joined with the FBI and several companies, including Target Corp. and online job database Monster Worldwide Inc., on a campaign to inform consumers about Internet scams such as auction fraud, identity fraud and foreign lotteries.
“Telemarketing and mail fraud scammers of the past have retooled their scams for the Internet and are now targeting unsuspecting consumers in online schemes,” Chief Postal Inspector Lee Heath said in a statement.
Through its Web site, www.LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com, the campaign offers prevention tips and an online risk assessment test to determine how vulnerable users are.
The site features personal accounts from scam victims, including a 42-year-old woman who mailed $1,000 to a con artist she met through an online dating service, and a Georgia job seeker who lost $6,000 in a “work from home” opportunity.
“Because the fraud evolves constantly, the site will evolve constantly,” said Michele Pearl, Monster Worldwide’s vice president for compliance and anti-fraud in Maynard, Mass.
Consumers can file complaints via the site and order “Web of Deceit,” a free DVD produced by the Postal Inspection Service on online fraud. The DVD is available through the service’s Web site, www.usps.com/postalinspectors.
The Postal Service has been pleased with the response to its efforts, Krenn said. It plans to step up production of the DVD and issue four more free discs, including one on fraud aimed at senior citizens.
The Postal Inspection Service and FBI also are partners with the Federal Trade Commission and several other groups in a separate Internet fraud awareness effort, OnGuardOnline.gov.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a cyber-crime partnership involving the FBI and other law enforcement and regulatory agencies, more than 207,000 fraud complaints were reported last year, a 67 percent increase over 2003. The amount lost in those cases exceeded $68 million.