Here’s a new twist on an old saying: When the economy gets tough, the crooks get going!
Some experts are now using the dreaded “R” word … recession … to describe our current economic situation: increasing unemployment; higher gas and food prices; violitial financial markets; and a terrible housing crisis in many parts of the country.
What this means, unfortunately, is that some criminals are getting out their old and time proven rip-offs to attempt to take advantage of these trying times for many cash-strapped Americans. An example of an old scam that might be revitalized by heartless fraudsters is the infamous “chain letter.”
You have probably received these dozens of times, perhaps in the mail, or even delivered by the use of email. Chain letters have been a swindle for many long years. Most chain letters are generally set-up in the same way. First of all, they promise a large cash return on a very small investment. The letter or email usually contains a list of names and addresses, with instructions that you send a few dollars (generally $5.00) to the person at the top of the list, then remove that name from the list, and add your own name to the bottom of the list. Next, the chain letter may request that you mail or email copies of the letter to a certain number of people, along with the directions of how they should continue the chain letter.
The chain letter attempts to hook you with this alluring premise -- by the time your name gets to the top of the list, so many people will be involved that you will be deluged with cash. For example, a common chain letter promises earnings of $50,000 or more within the next 90 days!
There’s at least one problem with that assurance -- chain letters are illegal if they request money or other items of value, and promise a substantial return to the participants -- oops!
Today, chain letters have gone high-tech. They are being disseminated over the Internet, or they may require the copying and mailing of computer disks.
A Quick Security Tip: According to the Untied States Postal Inspection Service, regardless of what technology is used to advance the scheme, if the mail is used at any step along the way, it is still illegal.
Here are some chain letter awareness tips from the FTC:
1 -- Chain letters that involve money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start one or send one on, you are breaking the law.
2 -- Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your “investment.” Despite the claims, a chain letter will never make you rich.
3 -- Some chain letters try to win your confidence by claiming they are legal, and even that they are endorsed by the government. Nothing is further from the truth.
Quick Security Tip: Neither the Postal Service nor the Postal Inspectors give prior approval to any chain letter!
4 -- If you have been a target of a chain email scam, contact your Internet Service Provider and forward the email to the FTC.
In addition, the Postal Inspection Service offers the following chain letter advice:
1 -- Chain letters don’t work because the promise that all participants in a chain letter will be winners is mathematically impossible.
2 -- Do not be fooled if the chain letter is used to sell inexpensive reports on credit, mail order sales, mailing lists or other topics. The primary purpose is to take your money, not to sell information.
A Quick Security Tip: “Selling” a product does not ensure legality of a chain letter.
3 -- Turn over any chain letter you receive that asks for money or other items of value to your local postmaster or nearest Postal Inspector.
A Quick Security Tip: Write on the mailing envelope of the letter, “I have received this in the mail and believe it may be illegal.”
For more information about chain letters, please contact the FTC at www.ftc.gov and the Postal Inspection Service at www.usps.com.
My Final Thoughts: With today’s uncertain economic conditions, it is highly likely that you will receive more “get rich quick” cons then ever, including illegal chain letters.
Don’t get duped -- always carefully check out any offers BEFORE you invest your hard earned dollars!
Note: If you manufacture or distribute any security, safety, emergency preparedness, homeland defense or crime prevention related products, please send information on your product line for possible future reference in this column to [email protected]
Copyright 2008 by Bruce Mandelblit
“Staying Safe” with Bruce Mandelblit is a regular column for the readers of Newsmax.com and Newsmax.com magazine.
Bruce welcomes your thoughts. His e-mail address is [email protected]
Bruce is a nationally known security journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer.
Bruce writes "Staying Safe," a weekly syndicated column covering the topics of security, safety, and crime prevention.
Bruce was commissioned as a Kentucky colonel — the state’s highest honor — for his public service.
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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