Mail scam seeks signature to steal victim's identity

Rain Smith • Jan 21, 2010 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Jean Harris, 81, chuckled as she read the letter that arrived at her Kingsport home Saturday afternoon — particularly when she reached the “puzzle” at its conclusion.

“I thought, ‘What in the world? This is not a puzzle,’” Harris said with a laugh. “If you can’t add 20 and five ... I mean, a first-grader could do that.”

However, the letter from “UBI Payment Services” promised that a correct answer, followed by her signature at the bottom of the document, “guaranteed” she would receive a check in the amount of $5,000.

It did not request a Social Security, bank account or credit card number. All she had to do was stick an international postage stamp on the return letter provided — preprinted for a P.O. Box in Robina Town Centre, Australia — plop it in the mail, then sit back and wait for a “reputable courier” to deliver her winnings.

“Who would give me $5,000?” asked Harris.

“I might be dumb, but I’m not that dumb.”

Kingsport police and the Better Business Bureau of East Tennessee said they are not aware of people receiving such letters, which have no return address on their envelopes, but postage purportedly paid in Hong Kong.

However, both agree that nothing comes free, particularly $5,000.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Kingsport Police Department Detective Frank Light.

While Harris laughs over the audacity of the letter, she’s concerned “some older people might get themselves in trouble.”

And so are authorities in Connecticut, who last week issued an alert on mailings from UBI Payment Services.

According to the Connecticut Better Business Bureau, the scam is sweeping the nation and first came to their attention in the fall of 2008. They said UBI Payment Services conducts business under three dozen different names and is seeking recipients’ signatures.

That signature — combined with a correct home address — can potentially be used to steal the responder’s identity, causing a world of financial hurt.

According to Reliability Reports on file at several Better Business Bureau offices, UBI Payment Services has an “F” rating. This results from “concerns with the industry in which it operates, insufficient information about how long the business has been operating and lack of background information.”

The Better Business Bureau advises individuals to proceed cautiously before responding to this type of mailing.

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