U. S. Embassy London
December 09, 2020
The Embassy receives inquiries every day 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 scams and phishing emails are attempts by con artists to convince you to send them money. These fraudulent schemes can include lotteries, on-line dating services, inheritance notices, work permits/job offers, bank overpayments, or even make it appear that you are helping a friend in trouble.
Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to obtain personal details. There is no one group of people who are more likely to become a victim of a scam; anyone may be targeted by an elaborate scam at some point in time here in the United Kingdom.
Remember, in the United Kingdom:
- Border officials do not ask travelers to pay large sums of money for entry into the United Kingdom.
- Hotel staff will not confiscate passports (if they do, contact local authorities and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate), and
- Hospitals do not withhold emergency treatment for financial reasons.
Other Common Scams
- Romantic scams. This the most common type of scam. Fraudsters can be very convincing and creative. They often create a fictional persona via social media platforms and online dating websites. They spend a long time building a relationship before creating a realistic story about needing money that sounds believable. For example, they may claim they have been involved in a serious accident, held by UK (or another country’s) customs officials demanding money, or need funds for a “life-or-death” emergency. You should be extremely wary of such requests, especially if you’ve never actually met this romantic interest in person.
- Financial scams. You may receive an email from a web-based email address (such as Yahoo or Hotmail) that asks you to verify your bank account. This is a hoax; scammers use this technique to obtain your personal information to make unauthorized transactions on your behalf.
• 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.
• Do NOT believe someone claiming they received an inheritance but require money to pay for “exit fees” to travel out of their home country.
• Do NOT provide personal or financial information to businesses you don’t know or haven’t verified.
- Identity theft. Whilst this isn’t quite as common, fraudsters tend to obtain personal information from government IDs and use a different picture to falsely pretend to be you – and open bank accounts or credit lines in your name.
- COVID-19 (scams and fake testing/vaccines). The COVID-19 pandemic has spurred a surge in charitable giving, with many high-profile events capturing the public’s attention. However, for every legitimate charity operation related to COVID-19, there are many scams out there, designed to siphon off money and possibly jeopardize your personal cybersecurity, too. As COVID-19 testing and tracing ramps up, so have phishing scams that try to tell people that they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus. Go to trusted sources of information like www.coronavirus.gov and www.fda.gov .
In many cases, scammers troll the internet for victims, and spend weeks or months building a relationship. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, the scammers create a false situation and ask for money. Scammers can be very clever and deceptive, creating sad and believable stories that will make you want to send them money.
Here are a simple few tips that can reduce the risk of you becoming a target:
- Question everything: the phone call, the email, links on social media, etc.
• More importantly, ask yourself: if someone is in extreme danger or requires assistance and they have the ability to contact you, they could just as easily contact the police, a family member, or the Embassy directly, right?
• Examine the email addresses of anyone claiming to be an official in the foreign government or hospital or police services. Legitimate authorities will not send emails from Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, or other types of personal accounts in foreign countries, particularly in the UK. If you receive an email from someone purporting to be a member of an official government, police, or medical office with an @ from a private account, this person is most likely part of the scam.
- Be alert: remember, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is! The reason why scammers succeed is because they sound so convincing.
- Guard your personal information: do not disclose personal details online or over the phone. Fraudsters use a variety of tricks to get you to divulge account numbers and passwords. If you get an email claiming to be from a legitimate source, such as a bank, and the email address does not look official (and the email itself is riddled with typos), this is most likely a scam.
- Cut off communication: if you have been targeted by a scammer, you should cease all contact with the individual(s) or “financial institutions” immediately. Whilst we understand that it is hard to believe that someone you trust has targeted you in this way, replying will only encourage more scam messages; it is common for fraudsters to pose as different fictional people or organizations, try different tactics to convince you of their legitimacy, or to sell contact details to other scammers.
Signs of a Scam
Before you send funds, check to see if you recognize any of the following signs, and realize 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. In some cases, the victim has even believed he or she has married the scammer by proxy.
- Photographs of the scammer show an attractive person and appear to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photo studio. If they provide you with a copy of their passport or visa, you may always contact the U.S. embassy in the country where the passport or visa was issued to verify the validity of the document.
- The scammer’s luck is incredibly bad – he/she is in a car crash, or arrested, or mugged, or beaten, or being held by other authorities, 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 destinations, citing detention by immigration officials, or other reasons that prevent them from traveling.
- Beware of anyone who requests funds for a BTA, or Basic Travel Allowance, as a requirement to depart another country for the United States. There is no such thing as a BTA. In other cases, your Internet friend will claim to need a travel allowance, or travel money, to be able to travel to the United States. Again, there is no such requirement under U.S. law.
- 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.
- Although the scammer may claim to be in the United Kingdom, he or she may ask that the money be sent to an account in another country. Alternatively, the scammer may state he or she is in a third country but request that funds be sent to the United Kingdom.
- The scammer may even claim to be contacting you from a U.S. Embassy, where your partner, business associate, or friend is being detained pending payment of some type of fee. U.S. embassies do NOT detain people.
- You have established an online relationship with someone who is purportedly a member of the U.S. Armed Forces and they have been asked to send this service member 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 Internet correspondence. You are unlikely to be able to recover money lost in such scams. For more information, please see :
- The Department of State’s on Internet Financial Scams
- The Defense Attaché Office page on Internet Fraud and the Armed Forces
What to do 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.
- End all communication with the scammer immediately, rather than attempt resolution directly. If you feel threatened, contact your local police at once. Do NOT attempt to personally recover the funds lost. Contact the appropriate authorities to resolve the matter
- 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 (BIA), at www.ic3.gov; and, if you are in the United Kingdom, to the Metropolitan Police, at www.actionfraud.police.uk
(If you believe that you are the victim of a crime in the United Kingdom, please contact your nearest Metropolitan Police station at www.met.police.uk)
- If the scam originated through a particular website, notify the administrators of that website.
- Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting center, run by the National Fraud Authority in association with the City of London Police and/or
- The U.S. Federal Trade Commission if you are concerned about identity theft.