Since virtually everything about our way of life moved online, you wouldn’t be blamed for assuming that mail fraud wouldn’t be as common as it used to be. Actually, it’s a method that’s still commonly used in scamming attempts today.
In 2020 alone, the FTC received more than two million reports of mail fraud from consumers, naming imposter scams as the most common types forwarded through the world’s oldest form of long-distance communication.
Been scammed or want to be prepared should it happen to you? Keep reading to learn more about mail fraud, the types to expect, and how you can report it.
What Constitutes Mail Fraud?
Mail fraud simply refers to any type of attempted fraud that’s submitted via the postal system. In the US, this constitutes as a federal and serious crime, not least for the damage it causes. Since it crosses both state and international lines, any mail fraud penalty will be severe, carrying a maximum of $1 million in fines and and up to 30 years in prison.
The three markers of mail fraud are:
The act of committing mail fraud isn’t complete without depriving someone of the thing they’ve worked the hardest for: their money. Manipulation and reliance on the naivety and good will of others are essential components when it comes to parting people with their money, so as you can imagine, it takes a real special breed of person to turn to scamming, no matter how desperate people can be.
Scheme To Defraud
For any plan to succeed, there has to be a strategy in place. Over time, there’s been a range of tried-and-tested ways of committing both local and international mail fraud, many of which you’ve likely heard of.
A typical scheme will create a sense of urgency or fear on the part of the receiver, either to send over banking details or to directly forward money via an untraceable payment system like Western Union. The scammer will likely imitate an official company you’re affiliated with or imitate a charity or an organization running a competition.
The Use Of Mail
As mentioned above and no doubt the most obvious marker, the postal system has to be used for any such scam to be labelled as mail fraud. This is especially important because it’s what enables a government to punish mail fraud cases. If it’s committed over the phone or, in most cases, via email, and money is forwarded to the fraudster, it’s likely that no charges will be brought forward.
Common Examples Of Mail Fraud
There’s a reason we shouldn’t trust everything we hear, and that’s an especially important rule in business. Ponzi schemes date as far back to the mid 1800s, even before the name was coined. Under the impression of buying into the next-best business opportunity, innocent people are suckered into parting with their cash on several occasions, simply to line the pockets of the so-called ‘Ponzi’, who then cuts and runs. This is one of the most common mail fraud scams there is.
It can all go wrong in no time at all when it comes to identity theft, and a surprisingly small amount of information is needed to execute it. A few biographical details is all they need to take out loans in your name, to clear out your bank accounts, and to even commit criminal acts in your name. Due to the slow-moving nature of the postal system, by the time your accounts are cleared and you’re being hauled in for charges, the scammers are already eyeing up their next mark.
This could be any documentation that requires forwarding money directly to a sender or, more likely, handing over your banking details. The letters will look just like anything you’d expect to see from your ISP or car insurance policy provider, except they serve only to part you with your personal information. This is one of the common methods used for stealing a person’s identity, also.
Tips To Protect Yourself
- Don't Leave Bills In Your Mailbox:Leaving mail with personal information on it, like bills, is exactly how scammers know what types of fraudulent documentation to send you, how they commit identity fraud, and how they pick you as the person for their next scam. Be sure to get your mail as soon as possible, and this goes for sending too: don’t trust anyone to get your post where it needs to go.
- Don't Respond To Suspicious Letters:This is mail fraud 101. Anything you’re unsure of, the last thing you want to do is hand over your personal details or banking information. You wouldn’t do this with a suspicious person, would you? If you’re ever unsure, simply give a quick call to the company that a letter claims to be sent by and get confirmation first. Usually, you’ll know to expect any mail from a company anyway.
- Be Careful What Sensitive Information You Send In The Mail:Most of our commitments with banking, policy payments, and anything similar can be handled online these days. Do you need to use the post? You should try to avoid putting anything personal in the post whenever possible
- Take Note If Anything Seems To Be Missing From Your Mailbox:If you’re expecting a letter and it hasn’t shown up, double check with the sender to make sure it was actually forwarded. If it was, consider changing the details attached to the respective account.
How To Report Mail Fraud
If you’re a victim of mail fraud, you should always report it to the fraud organizations in your country to aid them in shutting the scammer down. That being said, you’re unlikely to see your money back since the process is far too slow-moving.