Federal and state officials today announced new initiatives -- including an unprecedented step to reach out to every household in America -- to help law enforcers combat the mass mail fraud that's costing U. S. consumers millions of dollars a year.
At a press conference in Washington, the Federal Trade Commission, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and National Association of Attorneys General outlined the new initiatives, which included a report on law enforcement actions taken against hundreds of con artists who defrauded consumers using direct mail, e-mail and illegal, unsolicited faxes. While the agencies pledged a continued law enforcement effort, all the officials spoke to the power of consumers in the fight to end mass mail fraud.
"Consumers are conned out of millions of dollars each year by direct mail scams. Bogus sweepstakes, travel scams, chain letters, illegal foreign lotteries, sham prize offers -- the list is endless," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But by following a few tips, consumers can avoid mass mail scams and give the bandit in the mailbox the boot." The tips are part of the FTC's new consumer education campaign. With private and public sector partners, the campaign will help state and federal officials in their campaign to target the bandit in the mailbox.
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced that it will send a special crime prevention message to every residential address in the country -- over 120 million households. "Crooks who use the mail seek to take advantage of the trust Americans have in the Postal Service as a safe, secure and reliable means of communications. We in the Postal Inspection Service are determined to prevent unscrupulous promoters from undermining that trust," said Chief Postal Inspector Kenneth J. Hunter.
Speaking on behalf of the states and the Attorneys General was Oklahoma Attorney General and National Association of Attorneys General Consumer Protection Committee Chairman Drew Edmondson. "The state attorneys general are encouraged by the projects being undertaken nationwide to combat mail fraud. State attorneys general have brought hundreds of cases against direct mail organizations, but stopping consumers from responding to the mailings is the ultimate deterrent to this crime. I am excited to be a part of this project and feel confident these educational efforts will succeed in protecting vulnerable consumers from losing their hard earned money," General Edmondson said.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the Better Business Bureaus (BBB) and the Yellow Pages Publishers Association (YPPA) have contributed money and manpower to augment "Consumer Sentinel," the existing database used by federal, state and Canadian law enforcers to expedite investigations and pursue fraud. "The BBB and AARP, two organizations on the front lines in receiving consumer complaints about fraud, have committed thousands of hours of volunteer time and thousands of dollars to assist law enforcement efforts," Bernstein said. "YPPA also has cooperated in our database project and its members will put public service ads in yellow page phone books in an effort to help businesses and consumers avoid mass mail scams," she said.
Also, the FTC released a report on the hundreds of law enforcement actions targeting mass mail fraud brought by the agency, the state Attorneys General and the Postal Inspection Service.
Bernstein outlined the FTC's consumer education campaign to help consumers avoid getting scammed. Tips for consumers include:
Copies of the package of consumer education materials titled "WANTED: The Bandit in Your Mailbox," the Business Alert titled, "Business Directory Scams Try to "Give You the Business," and the full text of Jodie Bernstein's statement are available from the FTC's web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-FTC-HELP (202-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.