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What are some tips for recognizing a letter from a scammer?

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Consumer Fraud Reporting identifies numerous ways to spot scam letters and recommends looking for things such as a return address in Nigeria, Russia, Romania, Africa or other countries knows for scammers; a person who offers inconsistent or inaccurate information; or a stranger who asks for money via a wire transfer or Western Union. If their only means of contact is through email or a cell phone, this could also indicate a scam.

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Full Answer

There are many different types of letter fraud being perpetrated on an unknowing public. The FBI's fraud site describes the Nigerian letter fraud, or "419 fraud," which involves an offer for the recipient to share in a percentage of millions of dollars with the sender of the letter, who is usually someone proclaiming to be a government official. The person claims to be trying to transfer the money illegally out of Nigeria. The recipient of the letter is asked to forward personal information, such as blank letterhead stationery, bank name and account numbers, and other identifying information using a fax number provided in the letter. These letters may also come in the form of emails.

Although many people ignore this hoax, some have been lured in and have even traveled to Nigeria, where they are jailed for violation of section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label “419 fraud.”

Another popular scam is the lottery scam, according to Fraud Aid. It is most likely a fraud if a person receives a letter in the mail proclaiming that he has a won a lottery that he did not enter; if the lottery name is a company such as Microsoft, or an individual like Bill Gates; if the lottery is in a foreign country; or if the letter says claims the person's email address was drawn at random.

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