Mailbox 'reward' notices can come with big caveats

By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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Identifying a fake check is not a skill reserved for federal bank agents. Today, some local residents are also becoming savvy in recognizing cash rewards that are too good to be true. Just last week, 82-year-old Applegate resident Norma Harris received not one, not two, but seven different letters stating that she had recently won a significant chunk of cash. She said she usually junks the mailings and moves on. I know that scamming has been going on in the world and this is just another kind, Harris said. It's a little more sophisticated than some of the other ones I've seen because they're not asking for a whole lot of money. Harris was referring to letters that state the recipient is the winner of a large sum of cash, usually about $1 million. However, to collect this sum, the recipient is asked to send in a necessary fee that seems nominal in comparison to the prize money. Those offers are typically too good to be true and are indeed fake, according to Shaun Reed, supervisor for the U.S. Postal Service in Auburn. Despite the fact that the senders hardly ever come through with the $1 million prize, most of them are borderline legal, Reed said. This means law-enforcement agencies cannot investigate many of them. They word them just within the law, Reed said. Reed said he has seen it all ” fake money orders, nonexistent lotteries from Canada, and scams stemming as far as from Europe. By now, with a quick glance of the eye, he can spot a fake mailing or money order, he said. Others in the area say the same. Edith Wenzel, a member of the board of directors for the Senior Center in Auburn, said she's quick to tear up and throw away similar offers. I know not to pay attention to them, Wenzel, 72, said. When it says you may have won something, I just rip it up. Typically, Reed said elderly people are more likely to fall prey to any scams, but the mailings are sent to countless adults, regardless of their age. In some cases, however, even with the help of the post office, people refuse to accept that the offer isn't true, Reed said. One time, he said, a man came in and said he was excited because he had just won a lot of money in a lottery and was sending in a payment so he could collect the rest. Reed said he tried to tell the man that it was most likely an untrue offer, but the man refused to listen. It's unbelievable how some people are, Reed said, shaking his head. They don't like to admit they've been taken. Harris said she wishes those behind these types of mailings could face repercussions. There's something not right about it, Harris said. I don't have a good feeling. Reed said he sends fake mailings and money orders to the postal inspector, which has a local office in Sacramento. But almost every time the inspector says it's within the law. The mailings stay legitimate because of their wording and because they usually send some form of compensation back ” usually a dollar. The mailings also come from a legitimate bulk mailing account, so the company behind them pays to send the offers just like any other citizen, Reed said. Those behind the scams typically make their money off of the fee sent back. They send the same offer to millions of residents nationwide, and make a profit off of those who buy into the offer. In one of Harris' letters, the fee was $11.89. Then to keep it legal, they send back just $1, according to Reed. Reed said he has had people come in and try to stop the mailings being sent. That's a challenge, he said, because it's hard to trace how they ended up on the mail list in the first place. Reed said that whenever someone needs help, post office staff is ready to help. People can bring (the mailing) in if they have questions, Reed said. We're happy to talk. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at or via a comment at