A typical chain letter includes names and addresses of several individuals whom you may or may not know. Usually, you are asked to send money to someone on the list, add your name to it and send copies of the letter to others on the list who in turn repeat the process. The letters promise you'll receive money and lots of it. But the problem is sending or participating in this chain letter scam is illegal.
If you haven't received a chain letter in your mailbox, chances are, you will, but the United States Postal Service says chain letters are not only a scam, joining the chain is a federal crime.
"There are misrepresentations in the letter that say you're gonna make all this money. That you're gonna earn $800,000," says Fermin Romo, a USPS inspector.
The letters promise you'll earn a large amount of cash by mailing more letters. Some say they are not a chain letter and that it's perfectly legal. But federal law states chain letters are illegal. "When a person reads that its a chain letter or that its been approved by a postal inspector you know #1, we would never approve a chain letter. We don't give that type of advice," says Romo.
Section 1302 of the United States Postal Inspection Service states whoever knowingly sends any letter offering prizes dependent in whole or in part upon lot or chance is a federal violation. For example, if you send just one person the chain letter, you could effect up to six people. Assuming those people participate, the scam grows and grows. In just five mailings, the chain will eventually reach 7,776 people from your mailing alone.
"You have an individual that is reproducing an advertising , a representation and he's just photocopying it over and over. He's obtaining a mailing list and mailing it out in mass, hoping for someone to bite," says Romo.
Postal officials say even if you're not scammed into a chain letter, don't just throw it away. That can just add to the problem. So, you can write a message on the letter itself stating you received this letter in the mail and believe it may be illegal. Then, simply send or take it to your local post office.