He had recently received an "Express Notice" from the "Financial Acquisition Agency," which suggested he had won exactly $2,536,092.23. The letter, which included the illegible signature of the FAA's "director (of) Winner Notification," asked that Giffin initial the "Express Notice Tracking Form" and mail the form to a post office box in Miami, Fla., to collect his prize.
On a lark, Giffin filled out the form and enclosed a $20 bill, as requested, then mailed the form off. He wasn't shocked that his $2.5 million never showed up. What did surprise him, though, was the deluge of mail that came from scammers trying to get more money out of him.
"They evidently thought, 'Here's a sucker!' you know?" said Giffin, who is 76 and lives in Castle Rock with his wife, Shirley Giffin.
Around Nov. 10, four more official-looking notices came in the mail. By month's end, he'd received nearly 20. All included bar codes or seals resembling those of government agencies, legal language, and fine print -- all apparently designed to convince the desperate or gullible of their legitimacy.
Charlie Rosenzweig, the chief criminal deputy at the Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office, said mail fraud cases like these are common.
"They seem to go kind of in cycles where we don't see one in three to four months and then we get half a dozen in a week," Rosenzweig said.
He said the public should remember that "if it sounds too good to be true, it's probably not true."
Rosenzweig also cautioned that legitimate businesses will never demand money in exchange for a big payoff. He encouraged people who feel they've been scammed to contact local law enforcement agencies. But tracking down the culprits can be difficult, largely because the operations are based in other states or foreign countries.
The FBI refers to the phenomenon as "mass-marketing mail fraud." A report on the agency's website said the scams are often run by organized crime groups.
An almost sure indication that the Giffins' letters amounted to a scam: The notices appeared to come from different companies, but the same signature was scrawled across the bottom of many of them and they all included the same Miami post office box -- P.O. Box 527800 -- as a return address.
The address appears on numerous online message boards warning people of the grift.
Shirley Giffin said she worries "some little old lady or little old man on a tight budget" could fall prey to the scammers.
"I could see where they could just get taken like a son of a gun," she said.
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