by Vee Daniel, President and CEO, Better Business Bureau of the Upstate
If you receive an excessive amount of junk mail, don’t ignore it! You could be a target for scammers.
If the mail is packed with sweepstakes or lottery announcements, free gift offers and/or a large pile of random magazines, there is a good chance you have ended up on a scammer’s hit list. As soon as a senior takes the bait for just one scam, thieves sell the person’s name, address and telephone number, and fake offers begin to flood their mailbox.
Here are three common snail mail scams that your Better Business Bureau receives complaints about every year:
This mail scam comes in two forms. Some are pay-to-play schemes where consumers are encouraged to purchase inexpensive items or magazine subscriptions in order to be entered into a contest, while others are simply delivered in the form of an authentic-looking check and a letter stating that they’ve already won some sort of foreign lottery. Make sure to shred both types. It’s illegal for companies to require you to buy something in order to be entered into a contest, and it’s illegal for Americans to enter foreign lotteries. Often times, the check scams will require the consumer to send back a portion of their “winnings” for taxes or administrative fees. These checks will initially clear the bank because they appear to be authentic, but will later come back as counterfeit after the scammer has already removed your personal money from your account. This can cause a whole mess of financial trouble for consumers.
Fake check scams are exactly like the foreign lottery check scam described above. These extremely enticing and authentic-looking checks are just clever strategies designed to steal your money. You can avoid becoming a victim by recognizing how the scam works and understanding your responsibility for the checks that you deposit into your account. If a stranger sends you a check and asks you to wire some of the money back, watch out! This is the type of scam that could cost you thousands of dollars and lead to a massive financial headache. Some of these checks look so real that even bank tellers might be tricked by them. Some are phony cashiers checks, others look like they’re from legitimate business accounts.
This type of scam usually claims that you have been chosen to receive a free grant from the U.S. government, and often asks for personal information such as your Social Security or bank account numbers. Additionally, some versions will ask you to pay a processing fee. However, instead of giving you a grant, the scammer plans to steal your identity, your money, or both. If someone contacts you and offers you free money, it’s most likely a scam. The government doesn’t send unsolicited letters to offer grants. Grants must be applied for and will never require fees of any kind. You might have to provide financial information to prove that you qualify for a government grant, but you won’t ever have to pay to obtain one.
The most important tips that BBB has for seniors are:
Have someone you trust review your bills with you regularly to make sure that billing statements are legitimate. Don’t immediately feel pressured by items marked as “URGENT”, “FINAL NOTICE” or “PAY IMMEDIATELY”. These are tactics that scammers often use to intimidate older adults. Some of these may be relevant items, but others might be scams. Make sure to investigate before shelling out any money. Don’t deposit checks you receive in the mail from “winnings”. If you aren’t sure if a check you received is real, go to your bank and ask them. NEVER deposit a check you receive and then wire money to someone who could be anywhere in the world. You should never have to pay in order to win something. If you receive solicitations from charities in the mail, be careful. Scammers use look-alike and sound-alike charity names to scam you.
Education is the best defense against scammers. BBB of the Upstate is always here to help. Should you need assistance or are in doubt about what to do, pick up the phone and call the BBB Elder Fraud program hotline at (864) 240-2080. You can also email questions or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org. The mission of the BBB Elder Fraud program is to assist seniors in recognizing and resisting fraudulent offers and possible scams. If you would like to check out a business online, visit www.bbb.org/upstatesc.