BARTLETT — When Olof Ekbergh of Bartlett received a letter in the mail, purportedly from Bank of America and seeking his private information, he and his wife, Sharyn, got suspicious.
Sure enough, it was a scam.
Ekbergh brought the letter, which was sent to his post office box in North Conway, into the Sun offices last Thursday.
"I want to make sure nobody falls for it," said Ekbergh.
The letter, dated May 3, has an authentic-looking Bank of America logo at the top along with the return address of a P.O. box in Delaware. It had strong but official-looking wording, including a threat to drill open a safe-deposit box if Ekbergh didn't respond with the required information by June 4.
"During a recent review, we found we are missing or have incomplete information that is important to serve you and your banking needs," the letter states. "Like all financial institutions, we're required to maintain complete and accurate information about all our customers and may have to restrict or even close accounts, which may include opening safety deposit boxes by drilling the lock, that don't have the required information."
However, the letter contained account numbers that didn't match any real account and the phone number didn't go back to any Bank of America branch, said Ekbergh, adding that the scamsters did manage to spell his name correctly.
Included with the letter were copies of what were apparently W-2 and W-8BEN (Certificate of Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting Entities) tax forms, which ask for Social Security numbers and other personal information.
The letter came with a return envelope with an Arizona P.O. box.
Before showing the letter to the Sun, Ekbergh also showed it to postal workers at the North Conway branch, who made copies. He also notified the Conway Police Department, which told him they don't handle those types of investigations.
"To me, it's a big crime to be sending tax forms," said Ekbergh. "I have a feeling that nobody is going to do anything about this, but maybe by going to the local paper, even if one person in the valley reads the article, I think we've done a good thing."
Postal crimes are investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
"Postal inspectors base investigations of mail fraud on the number, pattern and substance of complaints received from the public," states the Inspection Service's website.
Postal Inspection Public Information Officer Emily Spera told the Sun, "Mail fraud cases are important investigations that help protect postal customers."
She said that in 2014 there were 662 mail fraud convictions; in 2015, 540; and in 2016, 420.
"A single arrest for mail fraud is often linked to thousands of victims who can suffer devastating financial losses," said Spera. "We also know that mail fraud is an under-reported crime."
The Postal Inspection Service says complainants should keep all original documents related to their case.
"Reporting on tax refund fraud or other frauds is a valuable way to inform the American public on how to keep from falling victim to these and other common scams," said Spera.
She cautioned the public that "if a suspicious offer, promotion or solicitation arrives through the mail, give it to your letter carrier and ask them to pass it along to a postal inspector.
"You can also bring it to your local post office or forward the solicitation to our Criminal Investigation Service Center."
The address is: U.S. Postal Inspection Service Criminal Investigations Service Center, 433 W. Harrison St., Room 3255, Chicago, IL 60699-3255.
Spera said the following should be red flags:
• High-pressure sales tactics, such as requiring pre-payments in cash.
• A warning that your response is “urgent” or “it’s your last chance for this price.”
• A request for you to sign a blank form.
Spera said people should read everything given or mailed to you by the person or company soliciting your money — including the fine print.
She also urged people to check out the company with the Better Business Bureau, State Attorney General or AARP’s Fraud Fighter Call Center (at 800-646-2283) if they need help determining whether an offer is legitimate or not.
You should also do an online search to check out others’ experiences with the business.
For more information about the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, go to tinyurl.com/2tvbcu.