Criminals have co-opted Verizon Communications' brand, sending notices informing consumers they have won a nonexistent sweepstakes in an effort to obtain money or personally identifiable information from recipients.
It's a double-pronged fraud, as well. Recipients who call a telephone number in the letter in an attempt to verify the sweepstakes and other information will be dunned for a long-distance call to Ireland.
Bill Kula, a Verizon spokesman, said the telecommunications provider has no way of knowing how many letters have been sent to customers. They were tipped to the fraud when one of the recipients contacted Verizon directly to verify whether any of the information in the letter is correct.
The letterhead bears Verizon's name, but the script is not one used by Verizon. Recipients are advised they have won a sweepstakes prize of $750,000, but the catch is they have to pay a $3,200 processing fee. The letter includes a check, purportedly drawn from Wachovia Bank, for $4,500, to help the consumer pay for the processing fee. Kula noted that unlike the letter, the check appears very realistic.
Similar scams have proliferated on the Internet for years. The criminals make money because the check-cashers eagerly send off the processing fee payment before the “check” clears their local bank. Once the check bounces, the victims find themselves $3,200 in debt instead of $1,200 ahead.
Kula said there is no way of knowing why the criminals chose Verizon for their scam, adding he's unaware of any other major corporations targeted in such a way. But he noted that Verizon has 69 million wireless customers and 32 million landline customers, in addition to a growing number of video customers. With that many customers, a broad mailing is likely to hit a Verizon customer.
Verizon is advising customers who receive such a letter to notify postal officials athttp://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/forms/MailFraudComplaint.aspx.