Of the many types of fraud in the United States, advance fee schemes are among the most devious and frustrating for authorities. This is because these scams, where someone asks for money upfront with the promise of a big payoff later, are only limited by the imagination of the person committing the fraud. Some variations of advance fee schemes that are more common than others include:
- Debt Elimination Fraud. These scams target people with existing debts and are difficult to distinguish from legitimate debt consolidation services. Generally, these scams involve collecting an upfront fee or payment in exchange for the promise of negotiating away your existing debts. Most people caught in these scams lose the fee they pay to the scammer and also suffer the consequences from their existing debts not being paid.
- Nigerian Fraud. This scam is so common that it is almost folklore in the United States. In this scheme, someone poses as a government official or other authority figure and asks for help in transferring funds out of Nigeria (or some other country) in exchange for a percentage of the funds. Despite the popularity of these schemes, creative fraudsters are still able to still defraud new victims each year in the U.S.
- Investor Fraud. These scams often involve emails inviting victims to purchase bonds or other securities and are sent from email addresses containing .gov, .org, or .us. You should always be skeptical of any such email that comes from address that does not END in .gov, .mil, or fed.us.
This is only a small sampling of the types of advance fee fraud out there in the world today. Fortunately, regardless of the form the scam takes, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself in all of these situations. First, always ask to see documentation around anything someone is trying to sell or offer to you. A legitimate business or organization will almost never be concerned with this request. Second, and this is one of my favorite tricks to avoid scams, always tell someone you need to have something reviewed by your attorney. Even if you don’t have an attorney, or don’t actually want to have one you have review what you are looking at, simply mentioning this can be a powerful tool to help weed out fraud. If someone refuses to let you take the time to speak to your attorney, or even worse, asks that you sign something PREVENTING you from doing so, walk away… and maybe talk to your lawyer.