The purpose of fraud is to separate you from your money in as few steps as possible. A vast majority of
common frauds operate under the guise of established businesses. Operators copy the methods and
trappings of legitimate enterprises in order to give their activities a convincing veneer. One of the most
prevalent frauds is known as Mystery Dunning. In this scheme a person or business is sent a bill for
fictional goods or services. The hope here is that through some oversight the target will simply send in a
remittance without question. As a fraud model, it’s wonderful. It cost little more than paper, postage and the
effort it takes to address the invoice to a party capable of making payment. Additionally this fraud allows
the operator a certain degree of anonymity and distance from his target, making it easier to just skulk off
with the cash.
In Mystery Dunning the only real capital expenditures, besides postage and research costs, is stationary.
You need to have some damn convincing stationary. For a business bill, you want something with a buck
stamp date on it and a semi credible sounding name. The Mail Sweepstakes Contest scams we will
examine here all use tactics borrowed from Mystery Dunning. Most pf them are simply a permutation of the
core Mystery Dunning scam. The contest context is almost besides the point. Really, it’s all about the
Many legitimate businesses and established charities run play by mail sweepstakes contests. For these
entities it’s engaging, cheap publicity. If you are buying the singing ashtray, you might as well enter the silly
contest. Most of these contests are on the level and for the most part all you are really risking is a stamp.
There are some big HOWEVERS to all of this. First, even legitimate operators use some extremely
deceptive language and tactics in their offerings. The way a contest should work is that if you are promised
a prize, that’s what you should get. This is just not the case. Thanks to lobbying efforts by the contest
industry, claims regarding the awarding of prizes have no literal meaning. We not talking about tricky
wording here—we’re talking about words having no meaning whatsoever. This has left the door open
for operators who are not so on the up and up. Second, the majority of legitimate operators are more than
willing to resell your name to anyone. As a person who has given to a charity or purchased a singing
ashtray, you may well find yourself marked down on the sucker list.
During the course of research for this article I was contacted twice via phone from an international
exchange by persons claiming to have a check amounting to $125,000.00 for me. (See the blog for more
details.) They got my name from contest operators. In both cases, these were professional confidence
men posing as law enforcement authorities. The intent here was to pull a what is called a Pigeon Drop. In
exchange for some fee paid on my part, these “customs officials” were willing to release my check. Of
course, once I paid this fee, that would have been the last I heard of them.
But wait, it gets worse. There is a secret scam going on in some of these mailings that you need to be
alerted to. Way back in the day when checking accounts were first established, a real banker would take
an eyeball look at any draft drawn on your account. Beyond checking to see if your funds were good, they
might even compare the signature on the check to the one on file with the bank. All of this went by the
wayside some time ago. Today most transactions are sent out with no verification whatsoever. Although
this is a tremendous convenience to all of us, it has been enabling to many a con artist.
Many of you have probably heard of the scam wherein a person cashed an overseas check for $3000.00
and the thing bounced. The target winds up having to pay bank fees on top being out of whatever
‘clearance money’ they paid to get the check. That is a rather overt scheme. In the new permutation, the
confidence operator is asking for only a small amount, perhaps just a few dollars. His objective here is to
obtain your bank routing number, which he intends to turn over to a confederate. This gives a party the
ability to mystery dun you without you ever seeing the bill. Generally they are not out to clean you out, but
rather serially steal small amounts on a regular basis. (You are dunned by a rotating array of fake
businesses.) Even if you watch your statement like a hawk, the electromagnetic payment world is such that
they are likely to slip a few charges in here and there. In the obverse of the scheme, our operator has sent
you a check for a nominal amount, usually a dollar. Again, the objective is the same. Once he gets the
cashed check back, he has your routing number. For this reason I caution you never to send a charity a
donation via check.
In fact, you might want to look twice into any charity which is running a Sweepstakes. If it has the words
‘Catholic’ or ‘Baptist’ or some other well known denomination’s blessing on it, it’s probably on the up and
up. If it has the words ‘Ecumenical’, ‘Inter-Faith’ or ‘World Faith’ on it, dump it. These people answer to no
one. It’s probably not worth the stamp to enter their contest.
Although Charitable Fraud is a bit beyond the scope of our subject, there are a few tell tale signs of scam
to look out for when it comes to contests run by people claiming to be on the side of angels. The scam
artists love to plaster the words ‘Cancer’, ‘Children’ and ‘Veterans’ all over their mailings. They also like
mutating the names of known charities, changing ‘National’ to ‘Federal’ or the words ‘Association’ to
‘Alliance’. I would tell you to Google these things to be sure, but frankly there’s no ombudsman for
websites. A good website is like good stationary: it means nothing. My rule of thumb is that if this is the first
time you have heard of this charity, don’t send them any money.
The first outright clue of a scam is that they won’t take money orders. If this is listed anywhere on the
mailing, toss it with confidence. This is a sure sign of a fraud operator. Other obvious signs include:
This one is from our pals HAPLIN Data Services, a certified Fraud Operator. They make their
mailings out of Singapore and accept their payments in Australia. This is actually an elaborate
set up for a pigeon drop. Before you can collect your winnings, an agent supposedly
unconnected to the operator is going to hit you up for taxes on your winnings. Once you have
paid the several hundred dollar tax fee, a quite bogus check will be sent to you.
This is their second mailing to me. In their first mailing they claimed the contest was free and
that I was a guaranteed cash winner. In this mailing, all I have won is ‘a number allocation
opportunity.’ Now they want $10.00, my birth date, telephone number and email address.
Supposedly they have sent me a prepaid envelope to send this entry in, but that’s a lie. I need
to supply my own IRC.
|NOTE: ALL OF THE IMAGES USED IN THIS FEATURE HAVE
BEEN ALTERED IN SOME OBVIOUS WAY FOR PURPOSES OF
OBSCURING THE IDENTITY OF THE PERSON (ME) WHO WAS
ON THE RECEIVING END OF ALL OF THIS WONDERFUL JUNK
MAIL OR FOR SPACE REASONS. IN NO WAY HAVE I
OTHERWISE ALTERED THE TEXT PRESENTATION OR
CONTENT OF THESE BREATHTAKING COMMUNICATIONS.