What is Advanced Fee Fraud (AFF)?
Advance Fee Frauds (AFF) use letters, emails and faxes to operate a confidence scam that appears to be a business proposal from officials from a foreign government or an existing foreign business. The scam uses stationery that appears to be legitimate and official, with appropriate governmental stamps and signatures. Hundreds of millions of dollars are fleeced from individuals around the world each year, with the United States and Great Britain receiving 50% of the AFF communications. Though there are various types of AFF scams, they all have some common elements:
- The communication was unsolicited by the recipient;
- The "opportunity" is urgent and confidential; and
- The victim is required to pay various governmental and/or legal fees and taxes before the victim will receive the money, which turns out to be nonexistent.
What does AFF look like?
Your business has just received a letter, postmarked from a foreign country, which offers you a "confidential business proposal" from someone claiming to be a foreign civil servant.
The official-looking letter informs you that millions of dollars were paid to their country for an over-invoiced contract and now the only way to access this money is to transfer the funds to a foreign bank account, as payment for a debt owed. Your business has been selected to help this person and his or her colleagues to access the money by simply allowing the funds to be transferred into your business bank account.
In exchange for this service, you will receive thirty percent of the $35 million dollars that is in a holding account, accessible to the "civil servant". All you need to do is provide copies of your company's letterhead, your banker's name, address and fax numbers and the account number and name of the beneficiary who will receive all these millions of dollars.
I have received one of these letters. How did they get my name?
AFF criminals obtain the names and address of their victims by reading trade journals or advertising in newspapers and magazines, searching the Internet or business directories, or contact local chambers of commerce.
How does the scam work?
Ninety percent of all AFF scams involve the transfer of money from over-invoiced contracts (see above scenario). When a victim responds to the solicitation, the perpetrator begins the process of developing trust between him or herself and the victim. Perpetrators send out more documentation, which purports to "verify" the claims of the deal. Communication is usually via fax machines and courier mail, which makes it more difficult for law enforcement to trace the activity.
The communication between the victim and the perpetrators continues for a period of generally seven to ten days. The perpetrator then informs the victim that the deal is near completion, but an unforeseen government fee or tax has to be paid before the money can be released. Once the victim pays that fee, the criminal will find more and more "problems," supported by documentation, which require money to solve. This ploy can continue for months, or even years, as victims fall deeper into the scam and try to recoup their losses. During the fraud, the victim may be asked to travel to a foreign country to finalize the deal.
Once in the country, the victim will be taken to bogus meetings with "government officials" and if the victim is sufficiently duped, he or she will return home and the fraud will continue. If the victim decides not to pay any more money, sign a contract, or participate in the fraud any longer, the victim may be subject to threats, physical abuse or be held hostage until he or she agrees to the perpetrator's demands.
How to protect yourself
Each year, hundreds of millions of dollars are estimated to be lost worldwide to Advance Fee Fraud (AFF). Public awareness is the best defense to AFF scams. Anyone contacted with an offer to do business in foreign countries should take the following steps:
You should run a background information check on the foreign company before sending out a letterhead, invoices or bank account information. This can be done by requesting an International Company Profile (ICP) through a U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center (Directory: www.ita.doc.gov/uscs
). These reports are prepared by the commercial staff at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, providing detailed and specific answers to many questions that can verify the legitimacy of companies abroad.
You can report the receipt of a fraudulent business proposal to:
U.S. Secret Service
Financial Crimes Division
1800 G St., NW., Room 942,
Washington , D.C. 20223,
Fax: (202) 435-5031
Remember the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Offers to enter into get-rich-quick schemes rarely live up to expectations. Dubious offers should be forwarded onto law enforcement officials (see "What to do if You Receive an AFF Letter" below).
What to do if you receive an AFF Letter
Do NOT respond to the message. According to the United States Secret Service (USSS), anyone responding to this type of message will continue to be harassed for months.
If you received an Advance Fee Fraud letter or facsimile, but no action has been taken and no loss has occurred, please fax a copy of the letter to (202) 406-5031. If the correspondence was received in the form of an e-mail, forward it on to firstname.lastname@example.org
If the correspondence was received in the form of an e-mail, notify the originator's mailbox provider that the originator's email address is being used to solicit illegal activities. For example, Yahoo and Hotmail have the following email addresses set up: email@example.com
If you believe that you have received a fraudulent offer via the United States mail, you may file a complaint with the USPS
Washington state residents may contact the Consumer Protection Center of the Attorney General of Washington at 1-800-551-4636.
AFF scams can also be forwarded to The United States Federal Trade Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org
Overseas, contact the Foreign Commercial Service (FSC) at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If there is no FCS office, contact the American Citizens Services Unit of the Consular Section or the Regional Security Office.
Where can I get more information?
U.S. Dept. of State Report on Advanced Fee Fraud (PDF) – includes sample AFF schemes.
Putting a Lid on International Scams: 10 Tips for Being a Canny Consumer
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