Deceptive Mail Problems Are Real, GAO Says

WASHINGTON — Data presented last week at a congressional hearing shows that consumers have substantial problems with deceptive mail.

Bernard L. Ungar, director of government business operations issues at the General Accounting Office, presented information collected between November 1998 and July 1999 in response to requests from three congressional subcommittees. The survey examined deceptive mail such as sweepstakes, chain letters, cashier's lookalike checks, work-at-home schemes and fraudulent charity solicitation.

Results include:

* Half of the adult population said they had received deceptive mail during the June-November 1998 period.

* Officials from the FTC, postal inspection service and state attorneys general offices estimated that 10,400 deceptive mail complaints led to or initiated 100 law-enforcement activities in fiscal year 1998.

* The FTC received more than 18,000 deceptive mail complaints between Oct. 1, 1997, and March 31, 1999, of which 2,700 — or 15 percent — reported consumer payments of $4.9 million.

* During the same period, the postal inspection service received more than 16,700 complaints in fraud and chain letters, of which about 3,000 — 18 percent — reported consumer fraud losses of $5.2 million. The inspection service also had more than 1,800 open investigative cases on deceptive mail during fiscal year 1998.

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