| NEWS RELEASE
UNITED STATES POSTAL INSPECTION SERVICE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 5, 2004Postal Inspectors Target Scammers Who 'Dial for Dollars'
Washington, DC - United States Postal Inspectors unleashed a two-pronged attack on fraudulent telemarketers, particularly those who target older Americans. The nation's Chief Postal Inspector Lee Heath announced the results of a law enforcement clampdown on scammers, "Operation Roaming Charge," and the unveiling of a new consumer protection campaign, "Dialing for Dollars."
"Every year, thousands of consumers lose from a few dollars to their life savings to various types of swindlers," said Heath. And these scams show no signs of slowing down. U.S. Postal Inspectors responded to 80,000 mail fraud complaints in 2003. This year, they have already responded to 78,000.
But Heath said that these two efforts will start to stem that trend: "Swindlers who use the telephone, computer, and the mail to defraud America's consumers are getting their own wake-up call." Joining with the Department of Justice, FBI, FTC, and Canadian authorities, Postal Inspectors contributed to the multi-agency round-up of fraudsters with 75 investigations, of which 43 were domestic and 32 were part of a cross-border initiative with Canadian authorities. U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigations resulted in 64 arrests and 64 convictions, resulting in sentences ranging from 5 months to 12 ½ years. Nearly one million victims suffered losses exceeding $650 million.
But arresting the con artists is not enough. American consumers lose more than $40 billion a year to telemarketing fraud, according to the National Consumers League. And they usually don't get their money back, even when the criminals are brought to justice. Investment frauds, or "get rich quick" schemes, are a favorite of fraudsters who target older Americans--people over 50 years of age who want to secure their financial futures. "Making consumers aware of these scams and providing them with tips to prevent them from becoming victims are the second part of our 'one-two punch' of enforcing the law and preventing crime," said Chief Inspector Heath.
"Although we made 1,453 arrests for mail fraud last year and shut down 37 illegal telemarketing operations, our most effective weapon in preventing consumers from becoming victims is education. That's why we created the new 'Dialing for Dollars' consumer protection campaign," said Heath. Partnering with the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the non-profit advocacy group Call for Action, the "Dialing for Dollars" features an extensive awareness campaign that includes ads in newspapers and magazines, such as Reader's Digest, the AARP magazine, and the premiere reissue of Life magazine. The ads warn of the dangers of telemarketing fraud and provide protection tips for consumers.
Also featured in the campaign:
Working in conjunction with the campaign, the Senate Special Committee on Aging sponsored a resolution designating October as "Protecting Older Americans from Fraud Month." Committee Chairman Senator Larry Craig said the first line of defense against all types of fraud is to promote public awareness of the dangers of such crimes, the types of schemes in which criminals are likely to engage, and what consumers can do to report suspected fraud. "This campaign is a perfect example of the kinds of things we need to be doing to help older Americans protect themselves from this type of fraud," said Senator Craig.
Although most telemarketers are legitimate, Postal Inspectors advise consumers to be wary if they receive a pitch by phone, computer, or through the mail that promises you'll get rich quick, receive high returns with a low risk, or urges you to invest now. Chief Inspector Heath offers this advice: "Watch out! Get rich quick schemes can cost you plenty. Be skeptical of any offer that makes these promises."
Postal Inspectors offer these tips to protect you:
"We're hoping to prevent consumers from becoming victims and send a message to fraudsters that 'crime doesn't pay,'" said Heath.