Postal Service Mails Fraud Warning to 129 Million U.S. Households

Authorities say Costa Rican scammers have stolen $20 million from U.S. victims.

October 21, 2010, 10:21 PM

Oct. 27, 2010 — -- With scam calls bombarding the U.S. from abroad and identity theft on the rise, the United States Postal Service has taken the unusual step of mailing a warning brochure to every single home in the nation.

Last week, ABC News reported on an unprecedented telemarketing fraud scam that has siphoned $20 million from American victims, most of them seniors. The scheme, which originates from Costa Rica, involves calls to victims announcing sweepstakes winnings, often from such trusted charities as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The scammer then asks the victim to pay taxes or insurance on the winnings in advance.

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The U.S. Postal Inspection Service got involved in the case because federal agents discovered that the swindlers were selecting their victims from so-called "sucker lists" comprised of people who had responded to sweepstakes mailers. Scammers paid top dollar for mailers returned with shaky handwriting – indicating the potential mark was elderly,

Top U.S. law enforcement officials said the swindlers began dramatically increasing their activity this summer. Callers disguised their Costa Rica boiler rooms by using internet phones with 202 area codes numbers to pretend to be calling from well known charities and such federal agencies as the Internal Revenue Service.

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In the face of this activity and a rapid rise in identity theft, the postal service decided to take the unprecedented step of approving a nationwide mailing, which will land in mailboxes at 129 million households over the course of this month, according to Michael J. Romano, the national spokesman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

"It's very unusual for us," Romano said. "It's going to every home."

The brochure, which lists warning signs of fraud cases, directs people who believe they have been targeted by scammers to the Federal Trade Commission web site,, or a new postal service web site,

It has already been distributed throughout much of the west, and began arriving in the midwest and on the east coast this week.

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