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Mail, E-Mail and Fax Scams

January 8, 2001 

A New York City woman cashed a check that she received in the mail. She thought it was a rebate for a recent purchase she'd made. It wasn't. She missed the small print on the back of the check which told her that by cashing the check she was agreeing to be billed monthly for Internet service. The woman didn't even own a computer.

A young couple got an e-mail message telling them that they were "specially selected" to win a fabulous Florida vacation. But once they arrived at their destination, the hotel accommodations were so shoddy, they had to pay for an upgrade.

The owner of a printing company needed to buy a piece of office equipment. When he got an unsolicited fax advertising bargain prices on the merchandise he needed, he quickly faxed back his order with his checking account number. The equipment never arrived, but his account was debited. He tried to contact the company by fax, but the number had been disconnected.

Four the fourth straight year, consumers like these have been helped by the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies as a part of Project Mailbox .

This year (2000), the FTC reports that more than 300 law enforcement actions were taken against companies for Internet-related frauds alone. More than one-third of the federal cases and just over half the state actions were taken against companies that used the mail, or sent spam and unsolicited faxes and who also had a Web site or advertised on the Internet.

"This year, (2000) offers using sweepstakes and prize promotions led the list of the 300 law enforcement actions. Project Mailbox partners brought more than 180 law enforcement actions against operators using deceptive sweepstakes and prize promotions. As a result of these activities, millions of dollars were returned to consumers who fell for the deceptive offers," said Collot Guerard, the FTC staff attorney responsible for Project Mailbox, in a press release.

"We have case after case of elderly consumers on fixed incomes buying thousands of dollars worth of magazine subscriptions and trinkets because they believed it would increase their chances of hitting the jackpot in a sweepstakes," said Betty Montgomery, attorney general of Ohio and chairman of the NAAG Consumer Protection Committee.

"While we've been able to recover millions of dollars taken from consumers over the past year, we will remain vigilant, watching our mail for the next scheme," she said.

To stop these scams, the FTC offers these tips:

Don't pay for a "free" gift.

If an offer asks for money in advance to claim a prize or enter a contest, don't send it.

If you receive a check from an unknown source, don't endorse it or you may be signing a contract for services or products you don't need.

Document your transactions, and keep the envelopes. They are proof that the mails were used for fraudulent solicitations.

Never give out your credit card or bank account numbers in response to mail from an organization you don't know.

Check out the organization with the attorney general or Better Business Bureau in your state or the state where the company is located before you send money for any product or service.

Call the FTC for details or you think you've been scammed, toll-free 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

To reduce the amount of direct marketing you receive, Guerard advises consumers to contact the Direct Marketing Association, Mail Preference Service, PO Box 9008, Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008. For email marketing, visit the DMA's E-mail Preference Service online at .

The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide.

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© 2001 The Beaufort Gazette

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