HED:Fraud prevention program kicks off

CATEGORY: Crime

AUTHOR: GIBSON

HED:Fraud prevention program kicks off

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Faxbox:

Telemarketing and mail fraud tip offs

There are several warning signs consumers can pick up on to identify potentially fraudulent marketing pitches. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

– Pressure to make an immediate decision.

– Refusal to put their claims in writing or send additional written information through the mail.

– Insistence on getting a credit card or checking account number.

– Offering to send a private courier “tonight” for a check.

– A registration fee or shipping and handling charge to receive a free gift or a prize.

If telemarketers fit these profiles, hang up the phone.

Source: U.S. Postal Inspectors

Where to call

-If you think you’re a victim of fraud:

Call toll-free 1-877-987-3728

-To learn more about fraud:

Better Business Bureau of Mississippi at 1-800-987-8280

-Online resources: www.consumer.gov/knowfraud and www.bbbmississippi.org

Uncle Sam wants you to know telemarketing and direct mail fraud when you hear or see it.

To that end, U.S. Postal inspectors, in cooperation with several other federal agencies and nonprofit organizations such as AARP and the Better Business Bureau, are sending out 120 million postcards to every resident in the United States. Representatives from the different agencies and organizations gathered at the Oxford Post Office Thursday to kick off the anti-fraud campaign in North Mississippi.

The postcards have tips on identifying fraudulent sales pitches and phone numbers to call to report fraud and get answers on potential frauds.

“It gives people the tools to protect themselves against fraud,” said U.S. Postal Inspector David Higginbotham.

The cards should be arriving at North Mississippi homes in the next week.

A $40 million problem

Experts estimate that telemarketing and mail frauds cost U.S. residents about $40 million every year.

That’s enough money to fund the state of Mississippi’s operating budget for 12 years, said Harold Palmer of the Better Business Bureau of Mississippi.

U.S. Attorney Calvin “Buck” Buchanan said the campaign is a positive step because it focuses on prevention instead of reacting after the fraud is committed and people have little hope of recovering their money.

“Many people have trouble telling the good people from the bad,” Buchanan said. “If it sounds too good to be true, we all know that it is too good to be true.”

The elderly tend to be especially vulnerable to phone and mail fraud, Higginbotham said.

About 40 percent of the people who have been scammed will be taken again, Higginbotham said.

Crooks sell each other “sucker” lists, with the names, phone numbers and other information about people who have taken the bait for one scam.

Public officials are also urging victims of fraud to report it. Investigators estimate only half of fraud victims every report the crime, many because they are embarrassed that they were fooled.

“When (fraud victims) don’t report, it allows your friends and neighbors to possibly become victims,” said Oxford Mayor Pat Lamar.

About 231 fraud cases were reported in Mississippi last year, Palmer said. Many more were likely the victims of fraud.

Scams for every season

During the holidays, a lot of fraudulent solicitations piggy-back off of legitimate charities by using similar names, Palmer said. Consumers should be cautious and make sure they are dealing with a reputable charity.

People also seem to me more vulnerable to quick money scams during the holidays, when many are looking for ways to make a little extra money, Higginbotham said.

Investigators are also seeing a new twist on telemarketing scams in which the crooks are taking advantage of people who have already been defrauded, Higginbotham said.

They will represent themselves as a fraud recovery center or impersonate law enforcement officers and tell the victims that the people who had previously ripped them off have been caught and prosecuted, Higginbotham said. However, to recover their money the victims will have to pay a fee.

No taxpayer money

No taxpayer money or post office revenues are being used for the Know Fraud campaign, Higginbotham said.

The fraud prevention campaign is funded by several millions of dollars recovered during the prosecution of a large scale mail fraud in Iowa.

It was not possible to return the money to the fraud victims, so the judge grant the money to postal inspectors to be used for prevention.