Most of us know to ignore those email scams that offer life-changing sums of money for a little investment up front. But what about the scams that get delivered right to your front step?
From phony job offers to fake sweepstakes, mail fraud plays all the same notes as phishing emails and other social engineering attacks. And even if you’re the type of security-aware individual that would never fall for these scams, can you say the same thing about the other people in your life? Mail fraud most often targets older adults, so it’s important to not only protect yourself but also to protect your parents and grandparents, who may be a little less “scam-savvy” than you. Here are a few things you can do to prevent mail fraud and protect your family:
Ignore free money.
Just like the classic Nigerian Prince scam or phishing email disguised as a lottery payment, if you get a hard copy letter notifying you that you won the lottery, ignore it. If you actually won a large lottery or sweepstakes, the contest sponsors are required first to send you an affidavit. Never cash any random checks sent to you by mail, and if you don’t recall entering a contest, then you should know it’s a scam.
Also, keep in mind that legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay any fees or require any type of banking information. As always, never give out your sensitive info to anyone unless you can verify, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the recipient of your data is 100% legitimate.
Treat threatening letters with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Any letters that threaten you and push a sense of urgency should immediately raise your suspicions. In particular, tax scams have long been a hit with fraudsters. If you receive a letter that appears to come from the IRS and demands payment for taxes, remember that the IRS will never:
- Call to demand immediate payment using a specific payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, or wire transfer. The IRS does not use these methods for tax payments. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill to any taxpayer who owes taxes. All tax payments should only be made payable to the U.S. Treasury and checks should never be made payable to third parties.
- Threaten to immediately bring in local police or other law-enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for not paying.
- Demand that taxes be paid without giving the taxpayer the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed.
- Ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
You should also stay alert for letters that may not necessarily be scams but are designed to pique your interest. Recently, a “summons letter” made the rounds in Texas. Except that it wasn’t an actual summons, but rather a fundraising campaign for a politician. Though not a scam, the intentions were certainly misleading. As one person noted on Twitter, official letters like a summons would always be sent first class. Any other method should tell you that the letter is not official.
As a retired postal worker who worked in bulk mail, there’s nothing wrong here. Rather than getting all worked up over junk mail, look at the postmark on the upper right. This says “presorted std”. That’s the give away. A real summons would be 1st class.
— bluesfantom (@bluesfantom) September 16, 2018
If you don’t recognize it, don’t pay it.
Chances are, if you receive a bill in the mail, it’s because you actually do owe money. But if you receive a bill that you don’t recognize for a service that you didn’t utilize, don’t pay it. Do some research and find out if the company in question is legit and try to determine if a mistake was made. And consider signing up for paperless online payments only.
Reduce the junk mail you receive by opting out.
Registering your address with DMAchoice.org won’t completely stop the junk mail, but it will significantly reduce it and allow you to be more specific about what you do receive. Not only is this better for the environment, but it also will help you recognize any potential scams that hit your mailbox. You can also opt out of credit card or insurance offers through OptOutPrescreen.com.
Spread awareness and help the older people in your life.
In addition to signing up your parents or grandparents with the opt-out services above, you should also teach them about scams and show them why they need to stay alert. Remind them that they rank as fraudster’s favorite targets, so keep the conversation ongoing. When they do receive a potential mail scam, discuss it with them and explain to them why it’s a scam and how they can tell if it’s a scam. Awareness is a vital component of personal security!
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