Troubleshooter: Read collection letters carefully, they may be a scam

If a letter arrives in your mailbox, that doesn't necessarily mean it's legitimate.

The envelope arrives in the mail and looks official, and it has important documents stamped on it, or time-sensitive information. But, these are all tactics scammers use.

"This is a government look-alike scheme. And basically the mailings look like they are from the government," said U.S. Postal Inspector Renee Focht.

A scam letter we were shown has a California Labor Compliance return address, directed to the Business Compliance Department. In bold letters, the letter said "Final Notice."

The problem was, there is no such department.

"These mailings looked official," Focht said. "They used names that included the United States, trademark, office you know..."

One mailing claimed it would cancel a business trademark if not paid immediately. Immediacy, Focht said, is part of the game.

"(Scammers make) threats to make people hurry up and pay the funds."

Inspectors said an astute postal employee tipped them off to the case after seeing more than 100 pieces of mail arrive for a rented post office box.

"I just became suspicious because it was just too much mail," USPS employee Nora Flores said.

Inspectors quickly learned the boxes were rented with false identification. As the investigation grew, inspectors learned losses totaled more than $100,000.

"All of this money was going into bank accounts with false identification. We could never identify the suspect in this case... everything was done using false identification," Focht said.

The lesson: don't pay a bill if it doesn't look familiar.

"Recipients have to be really careful and make sure that what it is they are receiving if they are going to pay something that is actually from a government office," Focht explained.

A red flag in this case was the absence of a telephone number, fax number, e-mail address, or name of an actual person in the letter.

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