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Are chain letters illegal?

Is it illegal to send a chain letter in New York? In many cases, though not all, the answer is yes. To a certain extent, it depends on what you want the recipients of the chain letter to do upon receipt. If you ask the recipients to send items of minimal value, such as recipes or postcards, that is not a violation of the law, and you can send the letter without fear of legal repercussions.

However, according to the United States Postal Inspection Service, it is a violation of the Postal Lottery Statute to send a chain letter asking for money from recipients and promising that those who participate will reap monetary rewards. The law regards this as a form of gambling, which is where the violation comes in. If you receive a chain letter, you should not do what it says. Rather you should indicate in writing that you think it represents illegal activity and turn it in to a Postal Inspector or your local postmaster.

In addition to being illegal, chain letters do not work. The expenses you incur in participating will likely exceed any money you receive in return. You should also know that the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service, never pre-approves chain letters. Therefore, if you receive a chain letter that claims to have received authorization from a U.S. Postal Inspector or the U.S. Postal Service, it is a trick to lull you into a false sense of security. 

As technology has evolved, chain letters have undergone a similar evolution. You may now receive chain letters via online communication. However, the same laws apply if the electronic chain letter asks you to send something through the physical mail. 

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.

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