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Metro mailboxes overflow with deceitful offers

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After writing a weekly scam column for the past nine months, I thought I had reached the point where nothing would surprise me.

Disgust me, yes. Surprise me, no.

But a bulging envelope that I received in the mail last month from an Albuquerque woman even gave me pause. In it, she had stuffed all the questionable mailings she had received in the previous two weeks – some that I had written about before, some that I had not – for my perusal.

Seven in all, the equivalent of one every other day.

Now I’m sure there are readers out there chomping at the bit to say, “Sheesh, I can top that,” – and I suspect I will hear from some of you after this column is published – but I thought this would be a good opportunity to spread the word on some of deceptive mailings making the rounds in Greater Albuquerque these days.

So in no particular order:

  • Guaranteed lottery winnings: I’ve written about lottery scams in the past, but this one puts those all to shame. For $20 – paid up front, of course – you can get access to the “secret loophole” that will put nearly $8,000 in your bank account every month.

And you never have to buy any lottery tickets to boot.

“Discover The Secret Loophole State Agencies Don’t Want You to Know About That Automatically Enters You Into Four Lottery Drawings, 31,240 Times Every Month, Right From Your Home in Albuquerque And Pays You At Least $7,925 Every Month, Even If Every Single Lottery Ticket Turns Out To Be A Worthless Loser!” the six-page letter opens in bright-red type.

How’s that for a sales pitch?

Later, in a brief moment of what will have to pass as candor, the letter acknowledges it’s probably going to take “a few months” before you begin racking up $7,925 each month, but it assures you that you will make several hundred dollars each month “fairly quickly.”

By the way, I received a second copy of this letter that same day from another reader, so I suspect there are quite a few of these circulating in the region and beyond.

  • Winning prize entry: This sweepstakes scheme is a bit more traditional. You are notified that a prize entry ID has been entered in your name and you must call a 1-800 number to activate your eligibility for the prize – in this case, $1.1 million broken down into $36,666.67 payments each year for 30 years or an immediate lump sum of $550,000.

National Magazine Exchange, the company behind these mailings, has been the subject of 300 complaints over the past three years to the Better Business Bureau, which still has an “alert” posted for this business on its website.

  • Car warranty extension: This official-looking letter, which I wrote about last fall, informs you that your factory warranty has expired on your vehicle and tries to persuade you to call a toll-free number to renew it for an undisclosed price.

While it’s made to look that way, the letter is not from the manufacturer of your vehicle, but rather from a third party looking to sell you new coverage. The company does disclose that fact in tiny print at the bottom of the letter.

For what it’s worth, when I received a similar letter last fall, it was for a car I hadn’t owned for about two years.

  • Medical product: This form letter suggests the recipient is eligible for a back-support system “at little or no cost to you,” though it notes you could be on the hook for a co-pay or deductible.

The sales pitch is tied to the assertion that this “non-invasive back-pain treatment” is covered by Medicare or your private insurance, though the BBB has fielded complaints from consumers claiming that is not necessarily the case.

  • Free gift card: This “limited time offer” urges you to call a toll-free number to claim a $50 Wal-Mart gift card. It also says you are eligible to receive up to three issues of your favorite magazines “absolutely risk-free.”
  • Parcel claim card: This postcard notifies you that there is parcel worth $50 waiting for you to pick up – as soon as you call a toll-free number and pay a $8.95 “Assessment of Shipping/Handling Fee.”

The final solicitation in the envelope was not really a scam, but rather one of those offers to receive a free product – in this case a charm bracelet – in return for agreeing to pay $29.95 a month to receive 11 more over the course of the year.

So there you have it: One Albuquerque woman’s haul of outright scams/deceptive business offers received in the mail over a two-week period.

And a stark reminder that, if you are not careful, your daily trip to the mailbox can be hazardous to your financial health.

Nick Pappas is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal and writes a blog called “Scammed, Etc.” Contact him at npappas@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3847 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.

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