MIAMI, Fla. - There are scam artists out there trying to take you for thousands of dollars. But thanks to one government agency, you'll never know. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is making it their job to stop scams before they ever land in your mail box.
The most common call and e-mail we receive at Call for Action is from people wanting to know if what they received in the mail is a scam. Over the years, we've heard from countless victims of mystery shopper scams and lottery scams. No matter how many stories we do, crooks keep getting away with it because they always manage to find someone to fall for it. Now, the Postal Inspectors have stepped up to help break that cycle.
"I do feel that we are silently protecting the American public by what we do," says U.S. Postal Inspector Joe Gonzalez.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement wing of the U.S. Postal Service. Gonzalez's office investigates and arrests people who use the mail to commit crimes; including mail fraud. And lately, they've turned their attention to trying to stop these letters from getting to you in the first place.
"I'm sure a lot of consumers out there have received some of these at some point," said Gonzalez, showing us examples of scam letters.
Working with U.S. Customs, Postal Inspectors go through international mail identifying the letters that want to scam Americans out of money.
"Thus far this year, we've already intercepted over a million pieces of mail-- of lottery mail, coming into the country. This is mail that the consumers will never see," Gonzalez explained.
It's not just checks and money orders that the Postal Inspectors are stopping. They're also identifying and stopping something called the "shipping scam." That's where a crook uses a stolen credit card and buys legitimate products. He then ships those items to you to so you can put on a new mailing label, which is usually counterfeit, and send it out. That way the crook doesn't get caught, but winds up with the merchandise in the end. The Inspectors catch these products before heading overseas and send them back to the stores.
"In that scheme alone, so far this year, we've intercepted over 671 packages going outside of the country. In postage alone, in counterfeit U.S. Postal Service postage alone, there's close to $100,000 worth of counterfeit postage that we've identified," Gonzalez told WINK.
Postal Inspectors say in just the first two months of 2011 they've stopped well over a million pieces of mail, preventing thieves from scamming you out of an estimated $122 million.
"It is enormous and that's only what we find. So, that's why we want to go out there to the consumers and let them know, be skeptical because if we don't see it, it's going to be delivered. So we want to make sure that an informed consumer can be able to go and take a look at this and say: it's a scam," Gonzalez said.
Postal Inspectors tell me that scam artists typically target people 70-years or older. The victims are seldom ever out to make it rich, quick; rather, they're just trying to leave something behind for their children and grandchildren.
Here are some links to the most common scams out there:
U.S. Postal Inspection Service Fraud Schemes:
FBI Common Fraud Schemes:
Lee County Sheriff's Office Fraud Alerts:
FTC Telemarketing Scams:
National Consumer Protection Week (March 6-12, 2011)