How to avoid postal scams


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Sweepstakes and lottery scams have been around for a long time, especially those through the mail, and they’re still going strong. The Federal Trade Commission received nearly 150,000 reports of scams involving prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries. Per the latest report, those swindled the unwary out of around $95 million.

One suggestion for avoiding these scams is to not sign up for contests. Who wouldn’t want to win thousands or even millions of dollars? That’s why Tennessee and Kentucky have successful lotteries. There are many legitimate sweepstakes out there, and the idea of winning some fabulous prize can be alluring.

Scammers know that, and they exploit your eagerness to score that big check.

US Postal Inspector Wendy Boles, an expert on illegal letters and scams, pointed out one that surprised even her called a “Missing Children’s Sweepstakes” with a grand prize of $6,000. The alleged odds of winning are pretty high.

“The odds that you will win the guaranteed prize are one in one,” Boles said with a laugh. “If you read the fine print, they say what is required by law to get away with mailing these. The odds buried in here, right here is one in one. But when you read further, the real odds are embedded in the fine print.”

Boles says to make sure to read the fine print.

“It will tell you in the fine print that sending money will not increase your odds of winning,” she said.

Boles warns everyone to ignore letters that appear handwritten.

“This looks like somebody has taken the time to put a personal note on this. This looks personal. It’s not. There are 10,000 mailings just like this that have this on it,” she said.

Boles says just her office receives dozens or mailings per week that say things like, “confidential notice,” “red alert envelope,” and “official prize announcement.”

“We receive dozens a week just in my office. All the local post offices, they receive the same thing. They forward them to us for investigation,” she said.

She pointed out one letter the Postal Service investigated, the contents of which are illegal.

“When you look inside is carbon paper. Inside of that is white paper and counterfeit postal money orders,” she said.

Why are these sweepstakes letters, notices that you’re a guaranteed winner, sent to tens of thousands of people every day? You likely agreed to it.

“I tell people don’t sign up for anything free. Nothing is ultimately free,” she said.

Here are some warning signs. If the sweepstakes mailer was sent bulk mail rate, it means a lot of other people got the same mailing. Watch out for scammers who try to trick you into thinking they’ve won a legitimate contest. Do read the fine print descriptions of prizes and various legal disclaimers. If that stuff isn’t there, something is funny. Carefully check for your odds of winning, and be especially leery of contests that don’t disclose it.

Remember, it’s highly unlikely you’ve won the money through the mail, so just throw it away.

If you are tired of having your mailbox crammed with unsolicited mail or fed up with getting telemarketing calls just as you’re sitting down to dinner, you can opt out of receiving them by calling 1-888-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit

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