2004 Safety, Security and International Affairs

Michele Culp

Developed and implemented a national multi-media fraud prevention campaign to educate senior citizens about telemarketing and mail fraud schemes.

According to the National Consumers League, telemarketing fraud cost consumers nearly $1.8 billion in 2003, and the average victim was cheated out of roughly $1,500. Even worse, scam artists are increasingly targeting seniors as their preferred victims. The percentage of fraud victims who are in their 70s increased more than 40 percent last year, the percentage older than 80 is up two-thirds. And, despite law enforcement efforts, the victims rarely ever see their money again. Shielding older Americans from these criminals might seem like an overwhelming challenge, but Michele Culp and the US Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) have proven they are up to the task.

Fraud is unlike most crimes since the victim actually has control over whether he or she will be victimized. And the tool that people need to defend themselves against fraud is education. The more you know about the types of scams that are commonly perpetrated, the less likely you are to be duped.

Michele Culp and the USPIS saw the need to not only do more about fraud education, but also to do it smarter. In the past, the USPIS sent mass mailings to every U.S. household to warn about fraud. But Culp understood that the criminals’ efforts were targeted toward seniors, so it was necessary to target prevention efforts as well.

Culp helped develop and implement a fraud prevention campaign that was designed to educate senior citizens and their families—the USPIS’ first ever campaign targeted at a specific market. Approximately three million mailers were delivered to selected zip codes with large numbers of senior citizens. Thanks to effective targeting, 50 percent of these mail pieces reached households of age 60 and over. Press conferences were held in Washington, D.C. and across the country. Newspaper ads ran in over 20 major newspapers nationwide. Televised public service announcements featuring actress Betty White reached over 1.9 million people, while radio spots featuring the famous senior reached over 47 million. In addition, posters were placed in 40,000 post offices across America for a six week period. Over 7 million customers visit Post Office lobbies daily!

Within 24 hours of announcing the campaign, a postal customer in her 80s attempted to send a $2,200 cashier’s check to Canada, saying she had won $162,000 in a Canadian sweepstakes. The postmaster saw the campaign poster hanging in the post office lobby and stopped the woman from sending the check, warning her that she was being scammed.

Inspector Culp followed this effort up with another campaign to prevent identity theft. What distinguished these campaigns is not only that they were smarter than previous education efforts but they were well executed. The success of these efforts has made Culp a recognized leader within the law enforcement community, as her peers cite her strong communications skills, positive attitude and ability to exceed expectations as keys to her effectiveness.

Few crimes are more offensive to our common sense of decency than the fleecing of older Americans who have already sacrificed so much for their country and their families. And thanks to Michele Culp, these crimes are being prevented and injustices are being averted.