Regulatory Group Debuts Mail Fraud Effort

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Mailbox scammers might have less success fooling consumers after this week's launch of "Catch the Bandit in Your Mailbox," an updated consumer education campaign put together by the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the National Association of Attorneys General.


But not everyone agrees with the tone of the program, which, according to some industry representatives, does not differentiate between legitimate businesses and fraudulent operations.


At a press conference in Washington, DC, the agencies outlined the hundreds of law enforcement actions brought by the agencies this year that targeted mass mail fraud and pledged to continue the law enforcement effort against fraudulent direct marketers and spammers this year. During the year, there has been an increase in the sources of fraud complaints submitted to the FTC from 4 to 31.


"We want consumers to know that they have the power to catch the bandit in their mailbox," said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Most mailbox scams ... usually promise easy money or guarantee a fabulous prize or vacation. To outwit that crafty bandit, all of us should filter these offers with a skeptical eye and toss mail that sounds too good to be true, because it probably is."


Bernstein also discussed the FTC's Internet-based public service campaign launched in 1998, called Project Mailbox, which allows a nonfraudulent company to add a logo to their Web page that links to FTC's Web site. Visitors also are connected to a consumer complaint form on the site that can be filled out by the visitor and added to the agency's national fraud database, the Consumer Sentinel, which is used by law enforcers in the United States and Canada.


Bernstein also announced a free PSA banner ad that features the new logo and said that 15 to 20 trade associations, including the American Society of Travel Agents and Yellow Pages Publishers Association, have agreed to post the ads on their Web sites.


But the Direct Marketing Association is not as eager to endorse the campaign in its current form. While it said it supports the goals of the campaign, it objects to the program's packaging.


"The title and logo of the program denigrate the entire direct mail medium, which includes thousands of reputable leading-edge businesses and millions of satisfied customers," said Patricia Faley, vice president of ethics and consumer affairs at the DMA.


Faley said the campaign creates an inaccurate impression in the minds of consumers. "This does a tremendous disservice to a vibrant and growing segment of the U.S. economy. It's critical that government agencies draw a clear distinction between fraudulent operators and legitimate business when rightfully addressing mail fraud," she said.


The group did not approach the DMA about joining the effort, Faley said, "and if we had been approached about joining we could not have joined this kind of a campaign."
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