U.S. Postal Inspection Service investigating potential mail fraud in Virginia Beach

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Posted at 6:27 AM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 07:09:51-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - News 3 is looking into allegations of mail fraud that stretches from Virginia Beach to Maryland.

Letters claiming to be sent from government officials are circulating the community.

Farrah Jackson of Maryland said she found one of these bizarre messages in her mailbox back in December.

"I saw a piece of mail that was from the Lieutenant Governor of Maryland and I was like, 'Oh... OK?'" she told News 3. "[The return address was unusual] because it was a piece of paper that was haphazardly cut and pasted onto the envelope, so I thought that was weird, but I opened it anyway."

Inside the envelope was a photo of a woman, unknown to Jackson, being called a "scammer" and a "thief."

After investigating and being tagged on a social media post from Virginia Beach's city government, it became clear that Jackson wasn't the only person to receive the bizarre letter claiming to be from a government official.

In fact, it's almost identical to one circulating in Virginia Beach. The only difference is from whom it supposedly came.

The envelope that has been sent to local families claims to be from the Virginia Beach Treasurer Leigh Henderson, which is not true.

"In this situation, the return addresses of legitimate government agencies are usually used to entice the individual into opening up the mail piece to see what's inside," said Michael Romano.

Romano is a postal inspector with the United States Postal Inspection Service. He said his office is investigating if this constitutes as mail fraud.

"There's two elements of the mail fraud statute: Number one is the device of a scheme to defraud or intent to defraud, and then number two - the use of the mail to execute a scheme," he said.

He said right now, it's too early to confirm if it's mail fraud. However, if it is, he said, "It is punishable up to 20 years in federal prison for every account charged, so it's not some thing that we take lightly here."

Brian Payne, the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at Old Dominion University, studies potential crimes like this.

"It's also identity theft. When you claim to be somebody else and you take on their identity and then perpetrate and act based upon that identity, that also has some ramifications," he said. "When you have that hunch that something is off here, we definitely have to recognize that."

If you receive this letter or one similar to it, Romano said to contact the agency or return address from where it claims to be. You can also file a report of any suspicious mail by calling the U.S. Postal Inspection Service's hotline at 877-876-2455. An online report can also be filed here.

Jackson said she just hopes this letter stops circulating.

"I can't imagine if that was my picture being circulated and these negative things are being said about me... you know, I would feel terrible."