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Commong Foreign Scams
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Since the 1990s, international fraud has been on the rise. Many criminals from different parts of the world have found novel ways to commit cross-border fraud, swindling money from innocent people for their own shady, economic gain. In the United States, foreign scams are a serious criminal offense. The con-artists behind these schemes are extremely skilled in carrying out elaborate, deceptive, and illegal business practices from thousands of miles away. The best way for consumers to avoid being victims to such scams is through awareness. Armed with the proper information, consumers can take a proactive approach, easily identify many scams, avert the enticement of instant wealth or happiness, and become aware of the many consequences associated with these illegal activities. Here are some common foreign scams that come disguised in several ways that people should be conscious of:

Foreign lottery scam
This particular scam often originates from Canada and uses telephone and direct mail to tempt American customers into buying foreign lotteries from Australia and Europe. They often welcome the consumers by saying, “Congratulations! You are entitled to receive a certified check for up to $400,000,000 U.S. CASH! One Lump sum! Tax free!” Or “Hundreds of U.S. citizens win every week using our secret system! You can win as much as you want!”

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s leading consumer protection agency, most foreign lottery promotions are a hoax. Lured by the promise of instant wealth, many consumers fall victim to this scam. In fact, many of the con-artists do not even buy the promised lottery tickets, while others simply buy tickets, but keep the prize money for themselves. In addition, these con-artists use victims’ bank account numbers to make unauthorized withdrawals or their credit card numbers to run up further supplementary costs. These foreign lottery solicitations violate U.S. law, which prohibits the cross-border/international sale or purchase of lottery tickets by telephone or direct mail. In addition, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service estimates that Americans who do respond to these solicitations lose a combined average of about $120 million per year.

The FTC has provided some important facts for people who encounter these scams or have thought about responding to any foreign lottery solicitation:

  • Whether the international lottery solicitation is made through direct mail or over the telephone, it is considered a violation of federal law.
  • There are no secret systems/methods for winning foreign lotteries and the chance of winning more than the cost of the lottery tickets is next to none.
  • If you have ever been enticed into purchasing a foreign lottery ticket in the past, you can expect many more counterfeit proposals for lottery or investment “opportunities.” Your name will be placed in a special file known by scammers as a “sucker list” which circulates among other fraudulent telemarketers.
  • Personal information such as credit card and bank account numbers should not be given to anyone. Scam artists often ask for them during their unsolicited sales pitch.

The FTC recommends ignoring all mail and telephone solicitations for foreign lottery promotions. Any document that looks like lottery material from a foreign country should be returned to your local postmaster.

Check writer scam
Since April 2007, a new foreign scam has emerged in the United States with Nigerian and Eastern European origin. In this scenario, the victim of the scam is “hired” by a foreign company and given a blank check stock, in which the victim is instructed to write checks for different amounts, endorse them, and send them to various addresses that were specified by the bogus employer (scam artist).  The potential victim may also be instructed to purchase a check writing program, and then follow the same instructions as mentioned previously. In the latter scenario, the victim is given the money for the purchases.

The victim is promised to be paid by commission according to the number of checks written and distributed. This may seem like a good opportunity for any individual seeking extra cash, but in reality, the scam victim is involved in an illegal money laundering operation. The “dirty money” is stolen money or drug money, and the victim is being used to "layer" the dirty money.

The people who fall prey to this check writing scam should be aware that any check or money order they have received is counterfeit or stolen, and they will be held accountable for the entire amount. In other words, they will be held responsible for any money spent and any money sent to anyone else. If the bank or check casher is not aware of this crime, it is possible that the victim could be arrested. In addition, the victim will be held responsible for any taxes on the money they have kept.

Nigerian letter or "419" fraud
The Nigerian letter or "419" scam (named after section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud) is a popular scam that entices many Americans by sending a convincing letter (usually via e-mail) urging the potential victim to send money to them in Nigeria. In this setting, the author of the letter is a self-proclaimed government official who is desperately trying to transfer out of Nigeria. For the opportunity to share a percentage of their millions, the victim is encouraged to send the author several things, including identifying information, such as their name, driver’s license number, and bank account information via facsimile. The compassionate consumer continually falls for this “false” tale and then willingly sends money to the author in Nigeria in several installments of increasing amounts. The scam artist claims that these charges will cover payment of taxes, bribes to government officials, and legal fees, and that these amounts will be reimbursed as soon as the funds clear and are transferred out of Nigeria.

In reality, the mentioned scenario is a hoax. The perpetrators behind this scheme are con-artists who prey on naïve and/or desperate individuals in order to obtain their personal information so that they can steal funds from their bank accounts and credit cards.

If you are ever tempted to respond to such an offer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests that you should wisely think about the proposition thoroughly and ask yourself two very important questions:

  1. Why would a complete stranger pick you—another complete stranger—to share a fortune with? and
  2.  Why would you ever share your personal information, such as your name, bank account, or credit card numbers with a complete stranger?

According to the U.S. Department of State, in addition to losing large sums of money, some of these victims have even been lured to travel to Nigeria, where they have been kidnapped, imprisoned against their will, beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered. The Nigerian government is ruthless when it comes to the victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law. Everyone is urged to take caution of travelling to a destination that is mentioned in those letters and to forward any solicitation to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

Sweetheart/Love Scam
In this conspiracy, lonely men are innocently looking for love online and respond to fake profiles on internet chat rooms, instant messaging, and multiple dating sites, where they immediately befriend and fall in love with fake Russian or Romanian women. As their e-mail correspondence with these women increases, their “cyber love” quickly blossoms. The “women” behind these profiles eventually profess their love for the victim with the promise of marriage. The love-stricken male victims begin sending money to these imposters, and in some cases, have even agreed to buy or “reship” (receive packages at their residences and subsequently repackage the merchandise for shipment) expensive items, including electronics, clothes, etc., and mail them to different sites abroad. 

In the reshipment plot, the female imposter explains to her online lover that for various legal reasons, her country does not allow direct business shipments from the United States. After “playing” her sad story, she would then ask for permission to send recently purchased items to the victim’s U.S. address for subsequent shipment abroad and that all shipping expenses will be covered. After the male victim agrees, large packages begin to arrive at their residence at greater speed. This fraudulent scheme lasts for several weeks until the victim, now called the "reshipper," is contacted by either the victimized merchants or by law enforcement officials, who explain that the recent international deliveries that were made were purchased with fraudulent or stolen credit cards.

Throughout this whole ordeal, these men do not realize that as their bank account depletes, the people behind these fake profiles are actually skilled male scam artists (who work in groups of up to 6 people). In fact, the profile pictures that are featured in these phony profiles are images that have been stolen from magazines and modeling sites, and are often of very attractive professional models. On many occasions, the scammers will even hire a female to speak to their male victims on the telephone during their online courtship. Yahoo’s RomanceScams group is an online support group that was created to provide awareness and to share stories of internet love scams. As of May 2006, it was reported that the 243 members of the group who have fallen victim to online love fraud lost a combined average of $2.2 million ($9,000+ per victim).

While internet dating is not a crime, the plots behind these extortions are. Lonely singles should be aware of all the signs that are indicative of dating fraud and money/goods laundering. If you have been a victim to such crime, you are urged to contact your local police department and file a police report. You should also terminate any further contact with the imposter, as well as decline sending any more money abroad or reshipping.

Telemarketing Fraud
This type of scam occurs when a telemarketer offers the victim a “free” gift, vacation, or prize and asks for a one-time payment for its "postage and handling." These solicitors can also offer several goods or services, claiming that you must “act now” or lose this “unique offer.” Often times, victims fall prey to this enticement and give their personal or financial information to these unknown callers, increasing the chance of becoming a victim of telemarketing fraud.

If you are ever offered goods and services from people that you are unfamiliar with, the best bet is to just say "no thank you" and hang up the phone.

It is often very tempting to avoid the promise of instant wealth, love, and free gifts. While some individuals are more prone than others into falling victim to these crimes, one thing remains evident: con-artists generally prey upon genuinely good-hearted, vulnerable people. The best way to avoid being a victim of a scam is through awareness:

  1.  Be  secretive of your own personal information,
  2. Ignore and delete any spam and e-mails (which may carry spyware or viruses) that solicit free services and goods,
  3. Throw away advertisements and letters via direct mail for offers that seem too good to be true,
  4. Hang up the telephone on telemarketers,
  5. DO NOT wire money to strangers abroad, and
  6. Use common sense; i.e. if it is free, then why are they asking you to pay for it?
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