Scam artists are targeting seniors by flooding their mailboxes with phony lottery prize checks and other unsolicited mail, according to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard.
At a news conference Wednesday at Friendship Village, a Tempe retirement community, Goddard gave an update of his Seniors Strike Back anti-fraud program. Seniors across the state were asked to collect their junk mail and turn it over to the attorney general's office for examination.
"I want to make clear that everything you get in the mailbox isn't illegal, and it's not fraudulent," Goddard said. "But certainly many of them are close to the border, and we believe some crossed that border."
More than 10,000 pieces of mail were collected last year by seniors and sorted by category. The leading category of fraudulent letters sent to seniors was lottery and sweepstakes price notifications, he said.
Among them were bogus cashier's checks for amounts ranging from $4,700 to $685,000, he said. In every case, the message was "congratulations, you have won the lottery," he said.
"They say in an effort of good faith, we're sending you this advance on your winnings, it's a cashier's check, so go ahead and deposit it, and then by the way you need to rebate a certain amount of money back to us," Goddard said. "When you've won something, you don't ask a lot of questions, like 'how did I win the Canadian lottery when I never bought a ticket?' I've got a cashier's check that guarantees that even if I have to pay something, I'll at least come out ahead."
But the checks are no good, and if your bank cashes one and then finds out it's no good, the bank can debit your account for the amount, even if it's hundreds of thousands of dollars, Goddard said. Banks can do that "perfectly legally," he said.
"Sometimes that's not the end of the story," he said. "If you do send the follow-up check, very often there's a phone call that says, 'oh, thank you very much, we're glad you've won all this money, but we'd like you to send another $10,000 because the legal fees have increased.' It's always legal fees."
One Arizonan lost $95,000 and another lost $65,000 in lottery prize schemes, he said.
Goddard himself said he received a phony check for $50,000. The check looks amazingly professional, and the only mistake he could detect was that Scottsdale had been misspelled.
"The bottom line is what you can do with these checks is you can frame them and put them on your wall, and they make you feel good, but please don't deposit them," he said.
Other mail seniors should beware of are:
* solicitations from charities that aren't registered with the Arizona Secretary of State;
* auto warranty notices claiming your auto warranty is expiring;
* investment schemes, mortgage refinance offers and work-at-home opportunities.
Lorenzo Lisonbee, a Friendship Village resident, said residents have been spreading the word about junk mail scams among family and friends.
"They (scam artists) seem to know your age ... and that's why they are pinpointing us," he said.