Millions of seniors get bombarded with unwanted junk mail these days, including mail fraud schemes that you need to be particularly leery of. Here’s how you can stop junk mail and prevent mail fraud.
While junk mail comes in many different forms – credit card applications, sweepstakes entries, magazine offers, coupon mailers, donation requests, political fliers, catalogs and more – the most troublesome type that all seniors need to beware of is mail fraud. This is the junkiest of junk mail that comes from con artists who are only trying to take your money.
Mail fraud can be tricky to detect because there are many different types of schemes out there that may seem legitimate. Some of the most common mail scams targeting seniors today are fake checks (see fakechecks.org), phony sweepstakes, foreign lotteries, free prize or vacation scams, donation requests from charities or government agencies that don’t exist, get-rich chain letters, work-at-home schemes, inheritance and investment scams, and many more. If you’re getting any type of junk mail that is asking for money in exchange for free gifts or winnings, or if you’re receiving checks that require you to wire money, you need to call the U.S. Postal Inspector Service at 877-876-2455 and report it, and then throw it away.
Unfortunately, once a person gets on these mail fraud mailing lists it’s very difficult to get off. That’s because these criminals regularly trade and sell mailing lists of people who they believe to be susceptible to fraud, and they won’t remove a name when you request it. Knowing this, a good first step to help protect yourself is to understand the different kinds of mail fraud and what to watch for. The Postal Inspection Service offers some great publications and videos (see postalinspectors.uspis.gov) that can help with this.
If you are compelled to donate to certain charities, make sure they’re legitimate. You can do this through your state’s attorney general or charity regulator’s office – see nasconet.org for contact information. Or, at charity watchdog sites like charitywatch.org, give.org and charitynavigator.org.
Reduce Junk Mail
While scam artists aren’t likely to take your name off their mailing lists, most legitimate mail-order businesses will. To do this, start with the Direct Marketing Association which offers a consumer opt-out service at dmachoice.org. This won’t eliminate all your junk mail, but it will reduce it. The opt-out service is free if you register online, or $1 by mail.
Then, to put a stop to the credit card and insurance offers you get, call the consumer credit reporting industry opt-out service at 888-567-8688, and follow the automated prompts to opt out for either five years or permanently. Be prepared to give your Social Security number and date of birth. You can also do this online at optoutprescreen.com. If you choose the permanent opt-out, you’ll have to send a form in the mail.
Some other resources that can help are the National Do Not Call Registry (888-382-1222) which will cut down on your telemarketing calls. And catalogchoice.org, a free service that lets you opt out of the unwanted catalogs.
Savvy Tip: If you don’t want to hassle with stopping the junk mail yourself, you can hire a private company (like 41pounds.org or stopthejunkmail.com) to do it for you for a small fee.
About the Guest Contributor:
Jim Miller, a contributor to the NBC Today show, is the author of “The Savvy Senior” book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org
Savvy Senior is a media/information service devoted to baby boomers and senior citizens, and the families who support them. Savvy Senior offers unbiased information through a variety of outlets.