The Internet gives buyers access to a world of goods and services, and
gives sellers access to a world of customers. Unfortunately, the Internet
also gives con artists the very same access. But being on guard online can
help you maximize the global benefits of electronic commerce and minimize your
chance of being defrauded. OnGuard Online wants you to know how to spot
some cross-border scams — including foreign lotteries, money
offers, and check overpayment schemes — and report them to the
For years, scam operators have used the telephone and direct mail to
entice U.S. consumers into buying chances in supposedly high-stakes foreign
lotteries. Now they're using email, too — either to sell tickets
or suggest that a large cash prize has your name on it. No matter what
country's name is used to promote a lottery, the pitch follows a pattern:
you should send money to pay for taxes, insurance, or processing or customs
fees. The amount may seem small at first, but as long as you keep paying,
the requests for funds will keep coming — for higher and higher
amounts. Some victims have lost thousands of dollars.
Most scam operators never buy the lottery tickets on your behalf. Others
buy some tickets, but keep the "winnings" for themselves. In any case,
lottery hustlers generally try to get you to share your bank account or
credit card numbers, so they can make unauthorized withdrawals.
If you're thinking about responding to a foreign lottery, OnGuard Online
wants you to remember:
- Playing a foreign lottery is against the law.
- There are no secret systems for winning foreign lotteries. Your chances
of getting any money back are slim to none.
- If you buy even one foreign lottery ticket, you can expect many more
bogus offers for lottery or investment "opportunities." Your name will be
placed on "sucker lists" that fraudsters buy and sell.
- Keep your credit card and bank account numbers to yourself. Scam
artists often ask for them during an unsolicited sales pitch. Once they get
your account numbers, they may use them to commit identity theft.
Resist solicitations for foreign lottery promotions.
Report them to the appropriate government officials, then hit delete.
"Nigerian" Foreign Money Offers
The "Nigerian" scam got its name from emails that supposedly came from
Nigerian "officials" who needed your help getting at their
money — which was tied up due to strife in their country. Today,
people claiming to be officials, businesspeople, or the surviving relatives
of former government honchos in countries around the world send countless
offers via email to transfer thousands of dollars into your bank account if
you will just pay a fee or "taxes" to help them access their money. If you
respond to the initial offer, you may receive documents that look
"official." But then, you will get more email asking you to send more money
to cover transaction and transfer costs, attorney's fees, blank letterhead,
and your bank account numbers, among other information. Subsequent emails
will encourage you to travel to another country to complete the
transaction. Some fraudsters have even produced trunks of dyed or stamped
money to verify their claims.
The emails are from crooks trying to steal your money or commit identity
theft. Victims of this scam report that emergencies arise that require more
money and delay the "transfer" of funds; in the end, you lose your money,
and the scam artist vanishes. According to the U.S. State Department,
people who have responded to these solicitations have been beaten,
subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered.
If you receive an email from someone claiming to need your help
getting money out of another country, don't respond. After all,
why would a stranger from another country pick you out at random to share
thousands of dollars? Report the solicitation to the appropriate government
officials, and then hit
Check Overpayment Schemes
Say no to a check for more than your selling price, no matter
how tempting the plea or convincing the story. Check overpayment
schemes generally target people who have posted an item for sale online.
The con artist, posing as a potential buyer from a foreign country (or a
distant part of the U.S.), emails the seller and offers to buy the item
with a cashier's check, money order, personal check, or corporate check. Or
the scammer may pretend to be a business owner from a foreign country,
needing "financial agents" to process payments for their U.S. orders; in
exchange, they promise a commission.
Regardless of the cover, here's what happens: The scammer sends you a
check that looks authentic — complete with
watermarks — made payable for more money than you expected. They
ask you to deposit it in your bank account, and then wire-transfer some
portion of the funds to a foreign account. They provide convincing reasons
why the check is for more than the necessary amount, and why the funds must
be transferred quickly. Sometimes, the counterfeit checks fool a bank
teller, but be aware that the check still can bounce. The scammer vanishes
with the money you wired from your own account and you are on the hook for
the entire amount of the worthless check. In addition, a scammer who has
your bank account number is likely to use it to withdraw more money from
Reporting a Cross-Border Scam
If you think you may have responded to a cross-border scam, file a
complaint at www.econsumer.gov, a project of 20 countries of the International Consumer
Protection and Enforcement Network. Then visit the FTC's identity theft
website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft. While you can't completely control
whether you will become a victim of identity theft, you can take some steps
to minimize your risk.
If you've responded to a "Nigerian" scheme, contact your local Secret
Service field office using contact information from the Blue Pages of your
telephone directory, or from www.secretservice.gov/field_offices.shtml.
In addition, report telemarketing fraud and check overpayment scams to
your state Attorney General, using contact information at
Report unsolicited email offers to email@example.com — including offers inviting you
to participate in a foreign lottery, looking for help getting money out of
a foreign country, or asking you to wire back extra funds from a check you
If you receive what looks like lottery material from a foreign country
through the postal mail, give it to your local postmaster.
Information courtesy of the onguardonline.gov and the FTC
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