Inverse credit card scam?

I’m not really sure if this is a commentary on myself or the state of the world today. I received a letter in the mail recently that read:

Dear Consumer:

The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), the nation’s consumer protection agency, filed a lawsuit against Kenneth and Teresa Taves, and Dennis Rappaport and their businesses J.K. Publications, Inc., MJD Service Corp., Herbal Care, Inc., and Discreet Bill, Inc. The complaint charged that the defendants were billing consumers without authorization for alleged visits to web sites. Consumers saw charges on their credit card bills under the names “Netfill,” “N-Bill,” MJD Service Corp,” and “Webtel.” The defendants bought access to lists from a bank that provided the account numbers for more than 3 million valid Visa and MasterCard credit cards. Rather than use the lists to confirm that potential customers had valid credit cards, the defendants debited the cards for web site services the cardholder had never used.

The unauthorized charges were incurred by you many years ago, and you may no longer have the credit card that was charged. The enclosed check is you share of the funds collected.

(Who knew you could buy 3 million valid credit card numbers?)

I actually do remember having a charge appear on my credit card back before I moved out of my studio apartment (2 actually), somewhere around 1998 or 1999. I don’t remember the name of the company that made the charges, but they totaled $98. I remember that clearly because I spent hours on the phone arguing with someone about the charges before I eventually hung up, cut up that credit card, and canceled that account -the credit card company refused to reverse the charge, and I was not able to contact the company that had actually made the charge. In an odd twist of fate, I never paid the credit card bill and let it go into collection (That credit card company (MBNA) was later part of a different class action lawsuit, where I also received a check) but it never actually made it onto my credit report.

Now that brings me to the part where I don’t know if it is a commentary about my paranoia, or that credit card fraud and mail scams are so commonplace. This letter came with a check attached. The amount, $27.68. The entire thing is printed up on an impressive letterhead, complete with a claim number and a return address of “FTC v. J.K Publications, Inc., et. al.” There is also a link listed on the letter: I followed the link through, and this does appear to be the legitimate FTC website for this case.

While it is possible that this is 100% legitimate (I would go so far as to say probable), how can I be sure? If I cash this check my bank account number will be stamped on the back of it, and whoever issued it will then have access to that number once the check is cleared to their bank. How can I be sure that J.K. Publications didn’t send out these checks in an effort to gather bank accounts? I mean really, why did it take 10 years to get these checks issued? The website says:

Most of the illegal billing dates back to 1998. Substantial time passed between the court’s judgment and the issuance of these checks because the defendants moved millions of dollars of their ill-gotten funds offshore, and it took significant time and effort to locate and repatriate the fraudulently obtained money.

If J.K Publications is based offshore (which isn’t made clear in the FTC information) it is entirely possible that they are still involved in fraudulent activity, and what better guise to hide behind than a court ruling; Mail out a few thousand dollars in checks to get account information, then move a couple million from those accounts to your offshore shelter…

This has every air of legitimacy, and I’m sure it probably is my cut of the class-action suit. But the skeptic in me says that it’s not worth the $27 to find out. The fact that I am going to wad this check up rather than take the chance either says that I need a tin-foil hat, or something needs to be done about the rampant mail scams and credit card fraud. Possibly both.

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