Tanked Economy Could Send Chain Letter Gangs on Prowl

Friday, 13 Aug 2010 01:49 PM

By Bruce Mandelblit

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Some economists think we might be in store for a terrible double-dip recession. The stock market sometimes is like a crazy roller coaster, with swings of hundreds of points. The housing market is flooded with thousands of foreclosures and short sales. Plus, millions of Americans are either unemployed or under-employed.

Unfortunately, when economic times get rough, nasty scam artists get going!

This means that some criminals are trotting out their time-proven schemes to take advantage of these trying times for many cash-strapped Americans. So, here comes the infamous “chain letter.”

You probably have received these dozens of times, perhaps in the mail, or even, in this tech era, through e-mail. Chain letters have been a swindle for many long years. Most are set up in the same way.

First of all, they promise a large cash return on a very small investment. The letter or e-mail usually contains a list of names and addresses, with instructions that you send a few dollars (generally $5) 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 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.

Of course, these days, chain letters have gone high-tech, being disseminated over the Internet or requiring copying and mailing computer disks.

Quick Security Tip: 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, according to the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Here are some chain letter awareness tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
  • 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.
  • Chances are you will receive little or no money back on your “investment.”
  • 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.
  • If you have been a target of a chain email scam, contact your Internet Service Provider and forward the e-mail to the FTC.
In addition, the Postal Inspection Service offers the following chain letter advice:
  • Chain letters don’t work because the promise that all participants in a chain letter will be winners is mathematically impossible.
  • 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.
  • Turn over any chain letter you receive that asks for money or other items of value to your local postmaster or nearest postal inspector.
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, contact the FTC at www.ftc.gov or the Postal Inspection Service at www.usps.com.

My Final Thoughts: With today’s uncertain and tough economic conditions, it is highly likely that you will receive more “get rich quick” cons than ever, including illegal chain letters. But also be aware of this: “Selling” a product does not ensure legality of a chain letter.

Bruce (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.

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