Volunteers compile mail scams for investigators

Thursday, June 29, 2006
Dot Mitchell, center left, and Ruth Dockins, right, helped sort through mail to be submitted to the attorney general's office by senior volunteers. (Diane L. Wilson)

Gathered at a table stacked with junk mail, 19 volunteers sorted through the pile at the Missouri Veterans Home to help in Attorney General Jay Nixon's investigation of con artists operating through the mail.

This is the attorney general's first statewide operation looking into mail-based fraud in 10 years.

During the late 1990s, defrauding people through the mail fell to the wayside as con-artists began focusing on telemarketing scams, Nixon spokesman Travis Ford said. But with the No Call law, which took effect in 2001 and reduces telemarketing calls for those who sign up for the program, the use of mail-based fraud has increased.

"We think the scammers are going old school," he said.

The operation, dubbed Senior Sting 2006, involved more than 300 volunteers throughout the state compiling their mail solicitations in May to be later submitted to Nixon's office.

Most of the mail scams targeted senior citizens, according to Nancy Johnston, director of the No Call program for the attorney general's office.

"They're an easy target," she said, noting most seniors have time and retirement money at the ready. Some scams involve fake charities or phony Canadian lotteries in which, for a small transaction fee, the recipient could win big money or prizes.

"If you didn't register, didn't buy a ticket, you're really not going to win anything," Johnston warned.

Most of the volunteers who sorted through mail Wednesday at the veterans home just outside of Cape Girardeau were seniors themselves, some who have had experience with the various scams.

"It's presented in such a way that it's really appealing," said Laverne Nothdurft, a volunteer and AARP member. Several other organizations helped with the operation, including the Missouri Retired Teachers Association and the Missouri Association for Family and Community Education.

Volunteers at the event in Cape Girardeau estimated about 1,000 pieces of mail were handed over to Nixon's office. Officials are expected to sort through at least 10,000 pieces of mail from throughout the state.

While not every piece of mail is a scam, Ford said, about one-third of the mail collected is suspicious enough to send to the legal team.

Ford was unable to provide the number of possible mail-based frauds each year, but said many are not reported because the victims may be embarrassed.

"There's no reason to be embarrassed," he said. "These con artists are very good. They know what they're doing."

kmorrison@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127


To cut down on mail solicitations, contact Mail Preference Service, Direct Marking Association, P.O. Box 643, Carmel, N.Y. 10512; or got to www.dmaconsumers.org.

To stop the influx of preapproved credit card offers, go to www.optoutprescreen.com or call (888) 5OPTOUT.

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