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Prevention that works

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service regards consumer education as one of its top weapons in fighting fraudsters. Postal Inspectors across the country help consumers with understanding how they can avoid becoming a victim of scams including, illegal contests and sweepstakes schemes, billing scams, identity theft, and fraudulent investment "opportunities"—to name a few. And there are also work-at-home schemes, rebate fraud, foreign lottery fraud —all through the mail. If there's illegal money to be made in connection with operating a mail fraud, you can bet a scam artist is doing it.

Today, many consumers receive their purchases by mail. Since older citizens are particularly vulnerable, it makes them easy prey for mail fraud operators. To make matters worse, these operators sell their ill-gotten target-marketing lists to other criminals, resulting in the repeated victimization of many elderly citizens.

What is mail fraud?

Mail Fraud is a scheme to get money or something of value from you, by offering a product, service, or investment opportunity that does not live up to claims. Prosecutors must prove the claims were intentionally misrepresented and that the mail was used to carry out the scheme. Although most mail order companies are honest and stand behind their products and services, there are criminals who give direct mail advertisers a bad name. They cheat people by peddling worthless products, medical quackery, and get-rich-quick schemes. Some fly-by-night fraudsters take your money and send you nothing. Unscrupulous businesses don't mind taking advantage of unwary customers.

Different crimes, same advice.

The scams are varied and plentiful. But you don't need to learn every variation of a scheme to help avoid becoming a victim. There's a common set of prevention measures that you can take to help you avoid a scam.

  • Safeguard your personal information. When you choose to share personal information such as your birth date, drivers license number, and Social Security Number, this information could wind up in the wrong hands. Consider whether there is a legitimate need to share this information with those requesting it. It's fair to ask, “Why do you need this? and “How are you going to safeguard my information?” Use one card number or payment service to minimize the risk of sharing your information.

  • Manage your online identity. Today more than ever, we share vast amounts of personal information on social media. Details about our professional and personal lives and our schedules help scammers effectively target us. Limit personal information that you share online.

  • Screen all incoming calls. Get a non-published telephone number and install an answering machine with a large caller ID display. Pick up only if you personally know the caller. Otherwise, let the call roll to the answering machine. Teach everyone in your household to do the same.

  • Block unwanted telemarketing calls. Consumer Reports Magazine has reviews of a number of devices and free services that block telemarketers and automated robocalls. Click here. NoMoRobo is a free robocall interception service available to customers with VoIP service and through phone providers such as Comcast and Verizon. Check to find out whether your service provider supports it.

  • Reduce unsolicited marketing offers. The Federal Trade Commission's website has additional tips for reducing unwanted marketing offers directed to your household. Visit the FTC here. In addition, never enter free prize and sweepstakes drawings; never attend free lunch seminars; and never respond to any solicitation you receive over the Internet. 

  • Opt-out of pre-approved credit offers. Enroll in the national credit bureau's OptOut program. Call 888-567-8688 or go online to

There are additional steps to take to protect older family member and loved ones. Learn more by clicking here.