The U.S. Embassy in Paris receives many inquiries from people who have been defrauded for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars by Internet contacts they thought were their friends or loved ones. Internet con artists try to convince you to send them money. These schemes include lotteries, on-line dating services, or even requests from a “friend” in trouble. In many cases, scammers troll the Internet for victims, and spend weeks or months building a relationship. Once they have gained their victims’ trust, they create a false situation and ask for money. Once the victim becomes suspicious, the individual may cut off contact.
Before you send any money, check to see if you recognize any of the following signs that you may be a potential victim of a scam:
- You only know your friend or fiancé online 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. If they provide you with a passport copy, the photo may also resemble a “glamour shot.”
- The scammer’s luck is incredibly bad – he or 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.
- You have sent money for visas or plane tickets, but they can’t seem to make it to their destination, citing arrest or detention by immigration officials, or other unexpected reasons that prevent them for traveling.
- The scammer claims to have been born in the United States, but uses poor grammar and spelling indicative of a non-native English speaker.
- Beware of anyone who requests funds as a requirement to depart another country for the United States – sometimes called a Basic Travel Allowance or BTA. There is no such thing as a BTA.
- In other cases, your Internet friend will claim a need for a certain amount of money to travel to the United States. Again, there is no such requirement under U.S. law. Legitimate information about obtaining various types of U.S. visas is available from the U.S. Embassy website and the Department of State . Additional information about applying for a visa for your fiancée is also available from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
If you believe you are the victim of an Internet scam:
- Do not send money. Unfortunately, any money you have already sent is probably not recoverable.
- End all communication with the scammer immediately. If you feel threatened, contact the local police at once. DO NOT attempt to personally recover the funds you have sent.
If someone has sent you money, do not send it onward on their behalf. You could charged with money laundering.
- Report the matter immediately to:
- The Internet Crime Complaint Center , a partnership among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).
- If you are in France, to the local police.
- If the scam originated through a particular website, notify the administrators of that website.
Additional information about internet scams is available from the Department of State.