Here’s How to Keep Yourself Safe From Mail Scams

Email phishing scams may be all the rage these days, but don’t forget that fraudsters can still steal your money (or even your identity) using good old fashioned snail mail.

One thing you can say for scammers is that they are master innovators. The second a new piece of technology or way of communicating with people is invented, they immediately set about using it to separate folks from their hard-earned money. If they weren’t despicable fraudsters, it would almost be commendable!

But don’t let their cutting-edge tendencies fool you: Scammers also know that the old ways are just as good from scamming people as the new ones are. Sometimes they’re even better! This is why scams run through the mail (not email, but snail mail) are still going strong

“Despite texting, email, and social media, snail mail still provides ample opportunity to get scammed,” said Mark A. Alexander, a prominent fraud attorney in Addison, Texas. “Scams focus on get rich quick investment opportunities, phishing for your personal information, offering fake lottery deals, changing your mail address and stealing from your trash.”

But that’s why we’re here. Here are some handy expert tips to help you identify and avoid mail-based frauds and scams.

How to identify mail scams.

“Intelligent, educated people fall for scams every day,” said Alexander. “Our land of opportunity provides a host of different ways to better ourselves. The talented scammer preys on good, unsuspecting people who see their cup as half full.”

He cautioned that you should “Watch out for solicitations that cause you to immediately think, ‘what a great idea.’” We couldn’t agree more. If there’s one piece of advice we find ourselves coming back to on this blog, again and again, it’s this: Offers that seems too good to be true are not true.

“Be careful of letters asking you to call a number or visit a website. The name is probably close to a legitimate business,” said Alexander.

When scammers do this it’s because they are pretending to be from a legitimate business to put their marks more at ease. You should immediately suspect any websites or phone numbers that are provided by someone that contacts you out of the blue with a “great” offer or piece of financial news.

Alexander also noted that “Any time someone uses a ‘time is short” message, be wary.'” Scammers are hoping you don’t look into them too closely. One of their best ways to do that is to create a sense of urgency. Don’t fall for it.

Meanwhile, some scammers want something far more valuable than your money: your identity. “People asking for personal information who you don’t know are an issue,” said Alexander. “Don’t fall for the ‘get something free by providing information.’” Any offer that includes you providing something in return—whether that’s a fee or your personal info—is a huge red flag.

And don’t forget that mail scams are a two-way street. Sometimes, the fraud involves contacting you through the mail, while other times it means taking information from your mail. “Finally, if your mail is missing, or the volume you receive has diminished, someone may have changed your address or stolen your mail,” said Alexander.

Watch out for lottery mail scams.

Often, the elderly are victims of lottery scams,” said Holy Zink, an identity theft expert with Kiwi Searches (@kiwisearches). “They are sent mail that looks legit, logo and all, claiming they have won the lottery. However, the catch usually is that they have to make a payment of some type in order to claim their prize.”

According to Zink, research is one of the best ways to prevent a company from getting on over on you. The letter itself might look legit, but there’s a good chance that the rest of their operation doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

“Often, if you do a Google search on the logo, company, or the person the letter is from, you can see whether or not it’s a scam,” she said. “If the company’s website looks unprofessional, the logo is slightly different, or there’s no mention of the person at that company, it’s likely a mail scam.”

Zink also suggests that you contact the company directly to see if the notice was sent using someone else’s good name to prey on potential victims:

“If the mail includes a company name, contact the company yourself. Find their email or phone number online, and ask them if they sent you this letter. They’ll be able to tell you right off the bat if it’s a scam.”

But there is one warning sign that stands out above all others. “Anyone you’re unfamiliar with asking for your personal information or money is an automatic scam red flag,” said Zink. “Under no circumstances should they be asking you for this nor should you give them your information or money.”

Luckily, as with other mail scams, protecting yourself doesn’t require a whole lot. In fact, it basically requires that you do nothing at all!

“The easiest way to protect yourself is to just not respond. Simple as that. As long as you don’t provide them with any information or instigate them, there will be no issue,” she said.

Lastly, Zink suggested that you contact local authorities to help prevent others from falling victim to these devious scammers:

“Chances are, you’re not the only one being targeted by this scam. As soon as you realize it’s a scam, contact your local authorities. You telling the authorities could help them catch the scammers and prevent more people from becoming victims.”

How to protect yourself from mail scams.

As we mentioned above, the simplest way to protect yourself from mail scammers is to ignore them. If you don’t call them, visit their website, or reply to their letter, there isn’t anything they can do to harm you!

But protecting your money and your identity doesn’t end with throwing out junk mail,  particularly when it comes to fraudsters who are looking to steal things from your mail instead of using the mail to scam you directly.

Here are six tips that Alexander provided to help keep yourself safe from mail-based fraud:

  • Investments. Slow down. Any investment that has been referred to you by an acquaintance or family member, any unsolicited investment opportunity, and any less than ordinary opportunity presented by your investment broker should be investigated thoroughly. Don’t fall for the pressure of a deadline. Seek the advice of an attorney that specializes in fraud before acting. Ponzi schemes are alive and well.
  • Guard your personal information. Never give away your name, address, phone number, credit card, bank information, driver’s license or social security card. If you have initiated the contact by going to a bank, going to a doctor’s office, or other regular activity, then provide the least data necessary for the transaction. Otherwise, do not provide information to get something for free or to apply for something you don’t remember asking about.
  • Shred. Don’t provide an easy way for someone to snag credit card offers, banking information, or even vendor information out of your trash. Also, mail is stolen from personal boxes, the blue postal boxes, and even off the postal trucks. Drop by the post office for outgoing mail. Don’t leave incoming mail in your mailbox.
  • Freeze your credit. In order to help prevent people from using your information to open credit in your name, you can place a freeze on your credit with the major credit bureaus.
  • Ignore renewals and work from home scams. If you receive unsolicited renewals for Microsoft products or equipment renewals, do not respond. Calendar when items are up for renewal, along with the correct phone number or website to use for a renewal.
  • Address changes. Anytime your volume of mail changes, contact the post office to verify no one has submitted a change of address form for your location. Also, immediately contact a few creditors to make sure your address is still the same. Finally, run a credit report to make sure you recognize all activity associated with your identity.”

Are you not entirely sure how a fraudster could use a change-of-address form to steal your identity? Don’t worry, we cover the subject at length in our blog post, Watch Out for Change-of-Address Identity Theft Scams!

With scams, knowledge is power.

Anyone who’s trying to scam you is going to prey on your sense of trust and your naivete. No matter what form the fraud takes, those will qualities remain the same. Luckily, this means that the more you educate yourself about scammers and their methods, the better protected you and your money will be!

Outright scams aren’t the only threat to your financial stability that’s lurking out there. There’s also predatory no credit check loans and short-term bad credit loans—like title loans, payday loans, and cash advances. You can read more about those on the OppLoans Financial Sense Blog. And to learn more about scams, identity theft, and fraud, check out these related posts:

Has anyone ever tried to scam you through the mail? We want to hear from you! You can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Mark A. Alexander is a prominent fraud attorney and the Principal of Mark A. Alexander, P.C., in Dallas, Texas. Alexander is licensed to practice law by the Supreme Courts of the States of Texas (1985) and Michigan (1988). In their aggressive pursuit of justice, the firm has obtained substantial judgments and settlements for clients.  Some of their clients have been physicians, attorneys, bankers, accountants, and retired NFL players. For more information, please call (972) 735-0040 or visit his website.
Holly Zink is a tech and security expert for Kiwi Searches (@kiwisearches). She is up-to-date on the latest security issues, from online scams to identity theft.

The information contained herein is provided for free and is to be used for educational and informational purposes only. We are not a credit repair organization as defined under federal or state law and we do not provide "credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding "rebuilding" or "improving" your credit. Articles provided in connection with this blog are general in nature, provided for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for individualized professional advice. We make no representation that we will improve or attempt to improve your credit record, history, or rating through the use of the resources provided through the OppLoans blog.