Fathers & Guns
Icons of Affection
The Optimist's Wager
Not For Sale
Preface & Reader Response
"The Mail Fraud Statute of 1872 makes it a federal crime to use the U.S. Mail to further a scheme to defraud, and the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill added private carriers to the statute."
SHAME ON THE P.O.
by Jerry Murley
Shame on the Postal Service for aiding and abetting sweepstakes scams that prey on the elderly – fraud that slowly smothers and consumes seniors and their care givers. Promising the chance to win large sums of money in exchange for the purchase of products on trial or for contributions to injured veterans and homeless pets, sweepstakes hook seniors on products that are poorly made, unneeded, and falsely represented. Seniors, as expected and desired, forget to return the products by post by the specified date. Then the scammers call their victims, poising as debt collectors and lawyers, in a effort to fish for credit card numbers and bank account information. They brazenly send authentic-looking prize checks, but whisper to seniors over the phone not to deposit them until some other piece of personal or financial information can be extracted. The Postal Service will not help, the bankers cannot help, other than to monitor accounts and close them down in order to prevent further exploitation of fixed personal financial assets.
Think of yourself – presumably not of feeble mind – having to deal with dozens of scams a day. With physical and mental decline, and increasing social isolation, even the most street-smart operator will fall prey to such an array of crafty deceptions, laced as they are with the faint hope of being a winner again late in life.
Mail carriers, local P.O.s, members of Congress, the soon-to-be elderly, should shun sweepstakes mail, to thwart these pushers of false hope dressed in official regalia, and put these worms of decay in the damp black ground where they belong. Sweepstakes-criminals clothe themselves in official business and phoney charities, while they pedal their drug, not from the street corner or some darkened alley, but in broad daylight at your very doorsteps.
Let's go postal on this topic for a few minutes more.
It the book Tom Watson, Agrarian Rebel, C. Vann Woodward tells us how expansion of postal delivery started as an enlightened good:
"[N]ot one farmer in three hundred got a daily paper in the 'nineties, [1890s], and those who lived five miles or more from a post office were fortunate to get their mail once a week." 
The Populist senator from Georgia, Tom Watson, was the man who led Congress to overcome entrenched political resistance to the idea of free rural delivery (RFD) in the U.S. Undoubtedly delivery of Sears catalogs to homes of rural farmers helped raise the aspirations and living standards of the nation's rural inhabitants and fueled an economy with unbridled consumerism.
A history of the Sears catalog elaborates:
"The time was right for mail order merchandise. Fueled by the Homestead Act of 1862, Americaís westward expansion followed the growth of the railroads. The postal system aided the mail order business by permitting the classification of mail order publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge entitling these catalogs the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of Rural Free Delivery in 1896 also made distribution of the catalog economical." 
The Postal Inspectors official website informs us that mail fraud has been addressed by law, but suggests that accessing that law, avoiding financial harm, and stopping or convicting offenders are much more elusive achievements. In other words, justice is hard to come by. And justice that cannot be practically achieved is no justice at all. Such law is only written statute – worth almost as little as the fine script that decorates phoney sweepstakes certificates.
"The Mail Fraud Statute of 1872 makes it a federal crime to use the U.S. Mail to further a scheme to defraud, and the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill added private carriers to the statute.
There are long, tedious procedures for addressing particularly flagrant and persistent attacks by mail scammers. But when considering the path outlined below in law, think of endeavoring to pursue this without the full cooperation of a weakened target or in bulk when there are a hundred or more assailants. This, too, is an impractical remedy, an official veil, that is hardly a remedy at all.
"Legitimate sweepstakes promotions allow anyone to enter and cannot require a purchase or fee as a condition of playing. 'Free prize' promotions that ask for shipping or handling charges, registration fees, taxes, auditorís expenses, or storage fees are against the law. Any high-pressure sales pitch from telephone callers requiring that you decide to make a purchase or investment right away are pretty sure to be bogus." 
"In response to a US Supreme Court ruling (Rowan v. Post Office Dept....), the United States Postal Service enables an applicant to obtain a Prohibitory Order, which gives people the power to stop non-governmental organizations from sending them mail, and to demand such organizations remove the consumersí information from their mailing lists." 
"A Prohibitory Order is a legal instrument issued by the United States Postal Service, against a mailer, on request of a recipient. Its effect is to criminalize any further attempt by a particular mailer to continue to send advertisement material to a particular recipient through the United States Postal Service.... In addition, it demands that the mailer delete immediately the names of the particular recipient from all mailing lists owned or controlled by the mailer or his agents or assigns and, further, prohibits the mailer and his agents or assigns from the sale, rental, exchange, or other transaction involving mailing lists bearing the names of the particular recipient.... It is requested by filing United States Postal Service Form 1500, either with a local Postmaster, or directly with the Prohibitory Order Processing Center...." 
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The U.S. Postal Service's "Postal Facts 2014" says that in 2013 its revenue was $67.3 billion, its total volume was 158.4 billion pieces, and 80.9 billion of that was advertising mail volume. That's 51% of the volume. Most of that, of course, is not related to sweepstakes, but it shows how important this market is to the U.S. Postal Service – and why the P.O. seems to value criminal marketers more than U.S. citizens over 65 years of age. 
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1. Woodward, C. Vann. Tom Watson: Agrarian Rebel. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.
2. Sears Archives, "History of the Sears Catalog"; URL: http://www.searsarchives.com/catalogs/history.html (Updated: March 21, 2012).
3. U.S. Postal Inspection Service, "Whatís a Legal Sweepstakes Game?"; URL: https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/raddocs/victim.htm.
4. World Public Library, "Direct-Mail"; URL: http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/Direct_mail.
5. World Public Library, "Prohibitory Order"; URL: http://www.worldlibrary.org/articles/Prohibitory_Order.
6. U.S. Postal Service's "Postal Facts 2014"; URL: https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-facts/postalfacts2014.pdf.