International Scams: Avoid Being Fooled

April 1, 2010
Passengers At Airline Ticket Counter in Munich

About the Author: Michelle Bernier-Toth serves as the Director of American Citizens Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Since one of the primary missions of the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State is to protect the lives and interests of American citizens overseas, we thought we should take a moment this April Fools' Day to reach out and educate U.S. citizens about some of the international scams we encounter most often in our line of work that manage to fool hundreds people out of thousands of dollars every year.

U.S. citizens lose upwards of a quarter of a billion dollars annually in international financial scams. One third of our callers report losses of over $10,000, and in some cases up to $100,000. One case even reached $250,000 in losses!

Victims report to us that they meet scammers in chat rooms and on all the well known dating websites. Scammers are also found on special-interest sites for Christian singles, widows, or singles with disabilities. Unfortunately, not even the most reputable sites are guaranteed to be scam-proof.

Anyone can become a victim of a scam, regardless of age, sex, race, education or economic status. From our experience, those most at risk are the elderly, the disabled, and those who are overly empathetic.

Romance scams make up close to 80 percent of the incidents we see, making them the most common one we encounter in our work. Many scams targeting women tend to be from West Africa and South America, while many scams aimed at men are generated out of Asia. Many of the scams appear to occur on Friday evenings or weekends, when government offices are closed. Our consular officers encounter this type of scam so much that the U.S. Embassy in London created this video to spread awareness and help others avoid romance scams.

Other scams we see include alleged business ventures or bank holdings. Although a number of these scams are sourced in several West African countries, it seems that much of the money is being sent to Nigeria. Each week, the U.S. consulate in Lagos, Nigeria receives about 200 e-mails and 50 phone calls related to scams that average losses of about $4,500 per victim. Conservative estimates show that about $50 million a year flows into the city of Lagos, Nigeria. However, scams can come from anywhere in the world. The FBI regularly publishes new e-scams and warnings here.

Here in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, we routinely provide consular services to U.S. citizens in distress abroad. Citizens may reach out to consular officers at all of our embassies and consulates overseas. Through passport record checks, we can confirm the status of someone claiming to be a U.S. citizen. We also provide emergency financial assistance for U.S. citizens abroad.

If you, or someone you know, needs emergency assistance abroad, you may call our overseas citizens services line at 1-888-407-4747, or if you are overseas you may call 202-501-4444.

In addition, you should report scams to:

* Internet Crime Complaint Center

* Local police

* If mail was involved, file a complaint with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

* Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection. If you want to report by phone, call 1-877-FTC-HELP or 1-877-382-4357.

You may also tell a victim's story, file a complaint and notify authorities at:

Consular officers also encounter non-U.S. citizens who fall victim to scams when they trust unofficial websites, e-mails or print advertisements with fraudulent information about the visa application process. If a family member, friend or you are applying for a visa to enter the United States, please be mindful of imposter or fraudulent websites. For more information, please read our Fraud Warning.

U.S. citizens have also reported to us about fraudulent websites directing them to pay for their U.S. passport fees online. Please remember to follow the passport application instructions on our official State Department website, U.S. citizens may also watch this Federal Trade Commission video to learn how to file a complaint and help others avoid being fooled as well.

Visit us at Follow us on Twitter @TravelGov Become a Facebook fan of “U.S. Department of State -- Consular Affairs
Watch videos on our YouTube playlist: Passports, Visas & Travel



Tennessee, USA
April 1, 2010

Joe in Tennessee writes:

What is anyone doing about protection of IDs in INDIA?

Do you realize that every company you do business with that has it's customer service based in another country has access to your credit card information, address's, etc.

When was the last time you seen anyone arrested for them spilling over customer service information from these people? NEVER!

Virginia, USA
April 1, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

(Phone Rings. Joe answers)

"Hello! Am I speaking to Joe in Tennessee?""Uh, yes.""Excellent! My name is Patricia and the purpose of my call is to tell you that your comment on Dipnote has been posted and will be read by millions!""Listen, I'm busy right now.""I understand that, Mr. Joe from Tennessee. Could you wait a moment while I punch a button on my computer screen that will tell me what to say next?""Uh, sure."

(Patricia yawns)

"Excuse me, Joe. It is so late here that it's tomorrow!""Uh, ok.""That's great, Mr. Joe. There! I've punched the button and it tells me to say that as a regular contributor to Dipnote, you've won a handsome leather carryall with the words "Joe in Tennessee" stitched in colorful thread on the lid flap.""Wow. That's great! I've never won anything before.""That's great, Mr. Joe! We'll have that carry all to you right away. Now, to make sure that it's actually Joe from Tennessee that I'm talking to, I'm going to have to verify some information..."

You know the rest of the story, folks.

New Mexico, USA
April 1, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Is that "Corinthian leather", Flavius?

Joe's got a point, a lot of corperations are farming out their accounting overseas, and although I don't think it's something to get hysterical about, it does pose a risk.

California, USA
April 1, 2010

Masood in California writes:

Thanks for the posting! It will help many for sure! Good question, how about the U.S. based companies in India? They have personal information including credit. And, we all know they don't have fbi there!!!

Virginia, USA
April 2, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

I agree. This isn't just about telemarketing anymore. In my field (intellectual property), at least one U.S. law firm has opened up an office in India to do "routine paperwork." Which is what I do here in the States. How they intend to protect attorney client privilege is beyond me, but I guess the bottom line has more immediacy.

The entire subject of both national and international corporate citizenship and regulation is one that requires much more attention. If I had just one suggestion for the current administration, it would be to at least begin to tackle this issue.

And actually, Eric, it is RICH Corinthian leather. Your carryall will be on its way to New Mexico just as soon as you could verify your Social Security Number with us. ;)

New Mexico, USA
April 2, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

I think that's a fine suggestion for the Fed. Flavius, but we have a bit of a problem.

See, I was looking for a new chew toy for my dog, but he absolutely hates "corinthian leather" ( gives him indegestion), on the other hand he really loves door to door salesmen, postmen, cop car bumpers and the occasional tire. Anything in a suit or uniform is fair game for his oral fixation.

Would you be delivering that in person?

He's drooling at the moment in anticipation.

C. M.
Maryland, USA
April 5, 2010

May in Maryland writes:

A majority of these financial scams originated in West Africa and has become popular with many African nations including Nigeria, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Cameroon, and so on. The two main financial scams are known as the “419” or Advanced Fee Fraud scam and the Romance scam. With the spread of internet capabilities on an international scale, both scams have become easier for fraudsters to utilize. For 419 scams, criminals portray themselves as businessmen, government organizations, family, charity organizations, and other entities to defraud unsuspecting people of their finances.

A large number of victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out from the masses to share in multi-million dollar deals and in order to become part of this deal victims are persuaded into divulging their personal information (i.e. S.S. #, address, banks accounts, etc.) and paying an advanced fee. Victims are often convinced of the authenticity of Advance Fee Fraud schemes by the forged or false e-mails bearing apparently official government letterhead, seal as well as false letters of credit, payment schedules and bank drafts. If you fall victim to this scam, the chances of getting your money back is very small and criminals are rarely caught.

Romance scams occur when you encounter someone in an online dating or social networking site. There are a number of widely used excuses that romance scammers use to gain money or personal information from their victims. The most common is when a person strikes up a relationship with you and then wants to meet, but needs money to cover travel expenses. The excuse they give when they don't arrive is that they are being held by immigration officials, when in reality you have fallen victim to a Romance scam. Like the 419 scam, if you fall victim the odds of getting your money back is slim.

A lot of people don’t realize the risks that are involved when you join a social networking site such as Facebook, Myspace, or even It’s a good idea to monitor the type of information you choose to include about yourself on these websites. Criminals use that information against you to create conversations in an attempt to develop some sort of relationship. On facebook, you have the option of restricting your privacy settings so that you have more control over who can view your profile. Those are just a few of the strategies you can employ to protect yourself from becoming a victim of internet fraud scams.

New Mexico, USA
April 6, 2010

Eric in New Mexico writes:

Thing is May, spyware and malware is often imbedded in the email, and the only real defense is simply to never open an email unless you are certain you can trust the sender.

All the software in the world can't protect your identity from one's own human error.

Before I got on the "no-call list" I had some real fun jerking con-artist's around with my "faux dog" and his appetite, a brief example resides here in response to a "faux scam" posed as a Dipnote solicitation.

I once had one of these email scammers on the hook for over a month thinking he was going to get some money out of me. Called the proper federal authorities and told 'em I had a "live one" if they'd care to take the iniative.

You know what I was told?

"We can't do anything about it, we recomend you break contact."

I had this fool convinced I was going to fly to Britan to take care of buisiness and my government couldn't find a replacement for me and bust him in the act.

It's a matter of soveregnity apparently.

Perhaps a "memorandum of understanding" is in order in bilateral relations to address this problem.

Australia i.
April 12, 2010

A.V. writes:

You always need to be more cautious


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