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Junk Mail Scams Are Aimed At Seniors

Letters Seek Funds For Hot-Button Issues

April 7, 2013
By HEATHER ZIEGLER - Associate City Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

EDITOR'S NOTE: "John" is a local senior citizen.

WHEELING - When local senior citizen "John" goes to his mailbox, he knows what he's going to find time and time again and it can be very overwhelming.

The return address on the official looking envelope was stamped "United State Investigative Unit." This piece of unsolicited mail indicates it was sent from the Project Issues Institute of Irvine, Calif.

Article Photos

Photo by Heather Ziegler
Just a sampling of the junk mail one local senior citizen receives on a daily basis is shown here.

Inside the envelope are several letters, again suggesting that the "United States Investigative Unit" has a message for "John." The letters bash President Obama and seek money "to defeat the Obama culture of corruption and thug-politics." The letter is signed by Douglas Ramsey, project director.

The bottom line of this letter and dozens of others received by local residents each and every day is money. Ramsey wants $60 from the recipient and, in return, promises to remove President Obama from office with these donations.

Then there is the letter from Defense of Family Center of Houston, Texas, a project of the United States Justice Foundation, which wants the recipient to donate anywhere from $35 to $5,000 to defend the Bill of Rights.

The letter states, "You see, there's a worldwide move afoot to criminalize free speech, and our elected officials in Washington may give the bloody mullahs of the Middle East the ability to censor, and possibly imprison, you and your family."

Scare tactics? For the targeted elderly population, it's working. Millions of dollars are sent to such individuals each year because many of the senior mail recipients believe they are from a U.S. governmental agency. With official-looking letterheads and titles, it's easy to see where some might be confused, officials agree. Some of the mailings contain a small disclaimer card but these acknowledgments are barely readable with a magnifying glass let alone for someone with aging vision.

"John," who lives alone, reports that his mailbox is constantly stuffed with these types of unsolicited mailings and often calls friends and family members to help him determine what's legitimate mail and what's not. He admits making a donation to "some sort of campaign" but ever since then, he has been inundated with requests for money.

"Everybody wants $40 or $60. Those must be the magic numbers or something," he commented. "A lot of this mail is postmarked 'Washington, D.C.'"

It's not just Obama bashers that send out the solicitations. "John" said he receives letters from religious organizations, animal rights groups and every other "save-the-something" organization.

"I get 10 to 14 of these letters in one day. When I was away for a couple of days, I came back to 46 pieces of mail," John said. "The scariest letters are about losing our Social Security. That gets your attention."

After consulting with some friends and family members, "John" simply throws away the junk mail.

"John's" daughter said there are legitimate charities, such as the American Heart Association, that send mailers out only once a year. She said, however, because of scams, it's important for every senior citizen to have an advocate.

"They need someone to check on them especially if they live alone, so they don't get taken in by these kinds of things," she said.

Wheeling Postmaster Randy Link agrees. He said it's difficult to end the stream of unwanted mail because it's often sent at a presort bulk standard rate, the same as much of the legitimate mail being delivered.

"You can submit in writing to the post office that you do not want any standard mail delivery. However, that means you may also be eliminating your Catholic Spirit, catalogues and advertising mailers that you might want to receive," Link said.

Link recommends contacting the senders of the mail you don't want and ask that they take your name off their mailing lists.

"But once you start getting some of this mail, your address has been sold to other mailing lists. It's difficult, but the best thing to do is throw the unwanted mail away. They'll stop sending it for awhile."

Link said the post office receives plenty of complaints from people who send money through the mail believing they have won a lottery. He said these scams often target the elderly and children who should have someone helping to filter their mail when problems arise. He said some families only discover a problem after looking over checking accounts for an unusual pattern of checks being written to unfamiliar organizations or individuals.

Other complaints to the post office are from postal customers who receive unsolicited packages such as books. Link advises that you should not open the package, but write "return to sender" on the package and place it in your mailbox.

"Once you open a package, you have to pay to return it," Link noted.

As for "John," he said he's fed up with the junk mail.

"I'm tired of every Tom, Dick and Harry asking for money," he said. "Some of these people even send self-addressed stamped en-velopes and I just send them back asking that they take my name off their mailing lists, but they don't."

 
 
 

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