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Financial Scams
August 9, 2016

We have received a number of complaints from people who have been defrauded for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars by people they thought were their friends. Often, the friendship, and ultimately the deception, took place on the Internet.

Internet scams are attempts by con artists to convince you to send them money. These fraudulent schemes can include lotteries, on-line dating, inheritance, work permits, bank overpayments, or even make it appear that you are helping a friend in trouble. In many cases, these scammers will contact their victims through the Internet, and spend weeks, maybe months, building a friendship. Then, when they have gained their victim’s trust, the scammers will create a situation and ask for money.

In some cases, those attempting to deceive you may even claim to be calling from a U.S. Embassy, where they say your partner, business associate, or friend is being detained pending payment of some type of fee. U.S. Embassies Do Not detain people. In other cases, your Internet friend will claim to need a BTA (basic travel allowance), or travel money, or a travel allowance, to be able to leave the country or to travel to the United States. There is no such requirement under U.S. law.

Recently, Internet scammers have used social network sites to interact with their victims. The scammers obtain the victim’s login information, change his/her profile to make it appear as if the person is in trouble, then contact the person’s friends via those websites asking them to send money to help. To avoid falling victim to such a scam, always be suspicious of anyone asking for money through the Internet, including via social networking sites, and always verify a supposed friend’s circumstances by speaking to him or her directly. Always protect your online identity by securing your logins and passwords.

All of these deceptions have one thing in common – they contain requests for money. Sometimes you are asked to pay money to obtain something of value for yourself (e.g. a prize, a romantic relationship, more money); or you are asked to pay money to help a friend in trouble. In every case, however, the ultimate indicator of a scam is that you are always asked to give money.

Con artists can be very creative and very determined. Be skeptical. Do not send anyone money unless you are certain that it is a legitimate request – even if you think you know the person well based on your correspondence over the Internet. You are unlikely to be able to recover money lost in such scams. For more information, please see the Department of State’s site.

Signs of an Internet Scam

  • The scammer and victim meet online, often through a dating or employment website, and may never have met in person.
  • Photographs of the scammer show a very attractive person, and appear to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photo studio.
  • The scammer’s luck is incredibly bad – he/she is in a car crash, or arrested, or mugged, or beaten, or hospitalized. Close family members are dead or unable to assist. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have a young child overseas who is ill or hospitalized.
  • The scammer claims to have been born and raised in the United States, but uses poor grammar and spelling indicative of a non-native English speaker.
  • The scammer asks for money to get out of a bad situation or to provide a service.
  • Although the scammer may claim to be in Belgium, s/he may ask that the money be sent to an account in another country.

If you believe you are the victim of an Internet scam:

  • Do not send money. Unfortunately, any money that you might already have sent will probably not be recoverable.
  • Contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to file a complaint at www.ic3.gov and/or the Belgian police. If the scam originated through a particular website, notify the administrators of that website.
  • It is best to end all communication with the scammer immediately, rather than attempt resolution directly. If you feel threatened in any way, contact your local police at once. Do Not attempt to personally recover the funds lost. Contact the appropriate authorities to resolve the matter.

If you are in Belgium, you also may call the U.S. Embassy in Brussels at 02/811.4300 or email us at USCitizenBrussels@state.gov . Within the United States, you may call the Department of State’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services at toll-free at 1-888-407-4747.

General Tips to Avoid Internet Scams

  • Never send money to anyone you correspond with online if you don’t know the person, and have never met or actually seen the person.
  • Do Not provide personal or financial information to businesses you don’t know or haven’t verified. You can always check out unfamiliar companies with your local consumer protection agency, the Better Business Bureau, the state Attorney General, or the National Fraud Information Center.
  • Do Not believe that you have won a lottery you never entered or inherited money from someone you’ve never met or heard of.
  • Do Not believe any offers (lottery, inheritance, etc.) that require a fee to be paid up front. There are Never any fees associated with collecting lottery winnings or inheritance money.
  • As a general rule of thumb, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.