Consumer Forum

U.S. Postal Service delivers trust in National Consumer Protection Week

Posted March 13, 2011, at 8:27 p.m.
Last modified March 13, 2011, at 9:56 p.m.

Would you like to make it more difficult for cyber thieves to steal your identity? Want to avoid the disappointment of foreign lottery schemes? How about updating your financial savvy on money and debt management?

The U.S. Postal Service has suggestions on the above and more. As part of National Consumer Protection Week (March 6-12), USPS turned the spotlight on a great website, nicknamed “Delivering Trust” (www.deliveringtrust.com).

The main message is that there are lots of shady operators in the U.S. and worldwide. They’re looking to take your money, and often they’ll use you to help them take other people’s money.

An example is the reshipping scam. Ads promise easy money working from home; you are sent merchandise made outside the U.S., which you are paid to forward to someone else. One day, a postal inspector knocks on your door and explains you’re under arrest for receiving stolen goods.

Bottom line: No legitimate company delivers goods this way. It’s a ploy thieves use to try to cover up their crimes.

Scam artists used to advertise their work-at-home schemes in newspapers. Most of them involved sending nearly worthless parts with photocopied instructions; you’d assemble and ship back the finished goods, which were never satisfactory. Bottom line: You’ve been had.

Thieves have gone high-tech, blanketing the Internet with tempting but illegal schemes. They sound too good to be true, and they are.

Postal inspectors get involved when the scam artists use the mail for their fraud. Sending real-looking but worthless checks for thousands of dollars is a common scam. The recipient is asked to deposit the check and send back a portion of the check amount by wire; your bank is required to make the money available to you in a few days, not enough time to find out the check is bogus. When that’s discovered, you’re also on the hook for whatever funds you’ve withdrawn on the check.

“A lot of people fall for it,” says Michael Desrosiers, one of two postal inspectors in Maine. Desrosiers says every consumer should heed the top ten warnings on the Delivering Trust website:

  1. If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  2. No one needs your help to transfer money in and out of the United States.
  3. Check your monthly statements.
  4. Never deposit a check if you don’t know who sent it to you. Just because your ATM or Internet bank account says “funds available” doesn’t mean the check has cleared. Never accept a check for payment if the amount is greater than what you’re owed.
  5. Your bank will never e-mail or call asking for your account number. Limit the amount of personal information you give out over the phone or Internet.
  6. There are no legitimate work-at-home jobs involving processing checks.
  7. Foreign lotteries are illegal in the United States.
  8. Never send money to a company you don’t know before checking with consumer advocates, your financial adviser or family members.
  9. Shred unwanted documents containing personal information.
  10. Review your credit report at least once a year, and review it thoroughly.

A free report is available annually (www.AnnualCreditReport.com) from each of the three major reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union). Request one from each company four months apart, to keep continuous track of your credit history. Maine law also guarantees a free annual report, so you can look at a report every two months if you like.

If you need assistance getting information online, your local library can help.

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