Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

I received this letter and forms in the mail several days ago and would like to know if it is a scam. My granddaughter resides at the California address.

Raymond Millar



Thanks for writing! For the other readers out there, I’ll summarize what he received in the mail. The letter says the U.S. government is holding $509 that is rightfully his. The sender offers to help him recover the money for a fee of $61.08.

The letter mentions a California address.

I turned the letter over to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office, which offered generic advice on the subject. Here’s what Parrell Grossman from the Consumer Protection Division told me:

“State and federal government agencies do not collect duties, taxes or other fees ‘up front’ before you can receive money. If you are being asked to send money in order to receive money, that’s a sure sign it’s a scam.”

Spokeswoman Liz Brocker provided this link to find more information on common scams:

Where to report a suspected scam varies, depending on the type of scam, she said.

“However, for many types of scams, even if you report the scam it cannot be investigated. This is because scam artists generally operate from outside the country deliberately to stay beyond the reach of local, state and U.S. law enforcement agencies.

“They use free e-mail accounts (such as gmail, hotmail, yahoo) because those e-mail accounts can be created and used from anywhere in the world and are not linked to the user’s physical location or IP address, create fake copies of ‘official’ websites and use spoofed telephone numbers.

“For scams involving wiring money, people should remember that once you wire the money, it’s gone for good.”

Recently, someone told me about the well-known scam of a “grandchild” calling from Mexico in need of money. The grandparent’s response? If they had enough money to get to Mexico, they had enough money to get out.

I wonder if the scam artist found this as amusing as I did.

I also contacted the IRS for more information. Spokeswoman Sue Hales advises calling (800) 829-1040 if you receive a letter or an e-mail and you’re concerned about its legitimacy.

One of the more prominent refund scams occurs via email, she said.

“What I would like everyone to know is that the IRS will not send out unsolicited e-mails regarding your tax account,” Hales said. “If you receive an e-mail like that, first, do not click on any embedded links or open any attachments.”

Instead, people should forward the e-mail to and then delete the e-mail from their inbox, she said.

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

Email (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.