His father soon admitted that he had already sent $3,000 in cash to pay taxes or "processing fees" for various prizes he believed he had won. His checkbook revealed that he had written more than 3,000 checks totaling more than $10,000 a year for several years to hundreds of different organizations. Many appeared to be flat-out scams; others, Koelsch said, were questionable charities and political groups using scare tactics to solicit funds.
In the shadowy world of mail fraud, suckers lists are an essential commodity. The names, addresses and other personal information they contain are bought and sold over and over again.
Companies that sell personal information to marketers, charities and other organizations that want to solicit consumers are known as data and list brokers. They make up a multibillion dollar industry. Most of these firms profess to ensure that their mailing lists don't end up with criminals. But government investigators are targeting an underworld of companies and individuals willing to provide this valuable information to scammers.
Ending up on a suckers list can begin with an innocent transaction, like a charity donation or a purchase from a mail-order catalog. If the organization you're connecting with knowingly or unintentionally sells this information to an unscrupulous data broker, your personal information can then be sold to criminals.
When someone falls for a scam letter, their name is likely to end up on other suckers lists broken down into categories like sweepstakes lovers, opportunity seekers and highly responsive buyers. Scammers target specific types of victims who might be drawn to their schemes, as well as elderly consumers often suffering from diseases like dementia.
In the case of one of the longest-running scams in history
, for example, court documents show how one list broker helped enable a vicious cycle of fraud.
According to prosecutors, 56-year-old Connecticut resident Daniel Arnold would locate mailing lists containing information on thousands of consumers and provide these on a monthly basis to the operators of a scam involving letters supposedly written by the French psychic Maria Duval. These letters promised recipients that the clairvoyant could help them battle health issues, w