A few steps to stop fraud

The envelope declared that the 90-year-old man in suburban Fairfax County, Va., had won $2.5 million in a sweepstakes and that he needed to send in only some small “fees” and “taxes” to collect. When the man from Jamaica kept calling to tell him that he needed to cover only a few more “costs” to collect the jackpot, the man thought that was reasonable. And send money he did.

When the man's adult children tried to intervene, telling their father he was being scammed, he went around them. At one point, at the children's request, U.S. postal inspectors intercepted an envelope from the man bound for Jamaica. Inside: a cashier's check for $18,000.

Inspector Jeanne Graupmann has a thousand stories just like this. From hidden offices behind the suburban regional post office, Graupmann and about two dozen other investigators for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service track fraud from around the world that involves the mail. The office also investigates mail theft, identity fraud, mortgage fraud, dangerous mailings and other crimes involving the Postal Service.

When it comes to fraud, it would seem that e-mail scams are the latest favorite of criminals. But many of those scams require victims to send money through the mail. And scam artists have learned that good old “snail mail” still snares plenty of “winners.”

Lately, those most often targeted are the elderly, Graupmann said. “The seniors just get bombarded with this stuff,” she said.

And once you respond to a phony sweepstakes or lottery mailing, your name goes on a list that is circulated among other devious schemers, Graupmann said.

So the Postal Inspection Service is trying to alert the adult children and grandchildren of the elderly to monitor the mail and the spending habits of their parents or grandparents before their life savings disappear.