Statement of Jodie Bernstein, Director Bureau of Consumer Protection Announcing "Project Mailbox"

ANNOUNCING "PROJECT MAILBOX"

For Release

I'm pleased this morning, to be in this distinguished company, to announce "Project Mailbox," a federal/state, public/private initiative targeted at con artists who use mass mail to defraud consumers. We are joined this morning by Ken Hunter, Chief Postal Inspector; Jim Doyle, Attorney General of Wisconsin and President of the National Association of Attorneys General; and Margaret Dixon, President of AARP. Later we will be hearing from a victim of mail fraud.

Our law enforcement efforts recently have focused on telemarketing fraud and fraud on the Internet recognizing we live in an increasingly hi-tech age. In the meantime, we haven't overlooked the fact that old-fashioned snail mail is still a favorite medium for con artists. Thus, "Project Mailbox." It combines the efforts of three federal agencies, 25 state Attorneys General and local law enforcers, and has resulted in 190 law enforcement actions. The scams targeted in the law enforcement sweep pitched consumers with a range of deceptive claims. Many were misrepresentations that a mailing was from the government; others were deceptive claims that consumers had won something; some arrived in official-looking envelopes, misrepresenting that consumers have unclaimed assets; others were phony billing scams, or bogus advance fee credit card offers or false contest claims. We know that telemarketing fraud costs consumers $4 billion a year. And that it starts at the mailbox. These con artists use the mail to convince consumers to make a phone call that continues the con. And once consumers are captured they are placed on the lists that are sold to telemarketers and used to launch future campaigns. Today we're announcing a four pronged, federal/state, public/private initiative to target the scammers who use the mails to con consumers. First, efforts by federal, state and local agencies have resulted in 190 law enforcement actions. Second, the FTC, Postal Inspection Service, state Attorneys General, NAAG and AARP have formed a strike force to collect and review direct mail for future law enforcement action. Third, AARP has announced a "Project Senior Sting" mail collection and ongoing state-wide "Project Senior Sting" efforts in Massachusetts and Arizona -- where unsolicited mail is being turned over to law enforcement agencies to search for possible examples of fraud. Finally, in conjunction with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, AARP and the Yellow Pages Publishers Association, we're launching a consumer education campaign to help consumers and small businesses spot mail fraud.

In previous telemarketing sweeps, we have partnered with the U. S. Postal Inspection Service, who are on the front lines in fighting telemarketing fraud. In this sweep, the Postal Service has brought 16 cases. I'm pleased to introduce Ken Hunter, Chief of the U. S. Postal Inspection Service.

(Ken Hunter)

Twenty-four of the cases announced today were brought by state Attorneys General. Two cases were announced by Jim Doyle, Wisconsin Attorney General and President of the National Association of Attorneys General. We're pleased that General Doyle could be with us today. Jim

(Attorney General Doyle)

With 1,500 volunteers collecting and combing through mail, AARP assisted state and local law enforcers and has agreed to participate in the public/private strike force to target deceptive direct mail marketers. One reason for their participation is that they are civic minded. Another reason is that seniors are the special target for mail and telemarketing con artists. To discuss AARP's commitment to helping with this problem is Margaret Dixon, President of AARP.

(Margaret Dixon)

We have been able to announce this four-pronged effort and 190 law enforcement cases today. But we are not lulled into believing that we have solved this problem. And we want to put mailbox con artists on notice. "We're out here; we're watching; and we intend to get tough with direct mail scam artists."

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