On Your Side Alert: Mail Fraud Investigation

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - You've probably received some junk mail this week. Most of us just throw it out, but crooks are hoping to score big from consumers who open the mail. One viewer got fed up when she kept receiving what she believed to be fraudulent offers.

Letter, after letter, after letter, all to one person, all scams according to United States Postal Inspector, Michael Romano. "The whole purpose of it is to really attract an individual who may have fallen on hard times and is out of work," he explains.

A viewer mailed NBC 12 an entire stack of offers they received in the mail. She wanted the junk mail to stop and wondered how her name ended up on the mailing list. Inspector Romano had an answer. "Many of these scams originate from the consumer actually reaching out to an offer that they think is legitimate, when in fact it is not," Romano says.

Crooks don't have to go far to get your information - and it's free. They can easily turn to the phone book or troll those online job sites. There is no 100-percent way to stop the unwanted offers, but you can limit them by being selective about where and how you share your information.

"As long as there are scammers out there who are willing to try and prey upon people, I think the scam is always going to exist," Romano says.

Postal inspectors say work-at-home deceptions top the list of complaints. During our interview, Inspector Romano was in the middle of investigating a work-at-home scam involving re-shipping pricey merchandise and pre-paid credit cards. "He explained to us that he put his information and resume on a career site, he had been out of work for several months and it looked like it was a good offer to make $200 to $400 a month," Romano explained.

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service offers tips and highlights some of the most common mail fraud on its website. Inspectors say prevention is key because most times, these schemes originate overseas. Catching the crooks is almost impossible, unless investigators catch the crime as it happens, it's usually too late to recover any money you've lost. "The main risk is, it is actually a criminal violation. You are basically participating in a scam. Now we try not to go with a heavy hand on individuals who didn't in fact realize that they were an unknowing participant," the Inspector says.

If mail seems suspicious, it probably is. When in doubt, take it to your nearest post office and ask questions. Postal Inspectors are working with law enforcement agencies to track countries known for participating in these scams and stop the letters before they hit your mailbox.

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