Avoid Internet Scams

Because international visitors are new to U.S. culture, they are sometimes more vulnerable to internet scams. BEWARE. Here are some common scams. Internet crimes can be very sophisticated and the criminals can be very patient in building your trust before stealing from you! Even very savvy people can become victims.

SCAM: Phone call or email that says you owe taxes or fees to the I.R.S. or other government agency.

Any federal agency will contact you BY MAIL. If you receive a written notice and you are unsure if it is valid, you may bring it to OISS or to A.S. Legal for our opinion. DO NOT give confidential information such as your address or social security number to anyone that is claiming to be part of the I.R.S. These scammers can sound very threatening, but they have no authority.

SCAM: A long-distance "friend" convinces you to send very, very private pictures of yourself. Then they threaten to post the pictures online to your friends or parents unless you pay them a fee.

Once private photos of you have been released to the Internet, there is little anyone can do to prevent them from being shared with others. This can become a very embarrassing situation. The best way to avoid this is do not send private pictures. Once someone has your photos, they may misuse them without respect for your privacy.

SCAM: Exchanging money is ALWAYS a scam!

Sometimes internet criminals will begin by slowly building your trust. For example, you may buy items and receive them without a problem. Once it seems you have a trusted relationship, you may be asked to transfer money for currency exchange. You might successfully transfer a small amount before the criminal has tricked you into sending a large amount. DO NOT PARTICIPATE IN INTERNET MONEY EXCHANGE! It is always eventually a trap.

Here are some other scams identified by Craigslist. These involve transactions such as renting an apartment or buying a used car, that may begin as online transactions.

1. Someone claims your transaction is guaranteed, that a buyer/seller is officially certified, OR that a third party of any kind will handle or provide protection for a payment:

  • These claims are fraudulent, as transactions are between users only.
  • The scammer will often send an official looking (but fake) email that appears to come from craigslist or another third party, offering a guarantee, certifying a seller, or pretending to handle payments.

2. Distant person offers a genuine-looking (but fake) cashier's check:

  • You receive an email or text (examples below) offering to buy your item, pay for your services in advance, or rent your apartment, sight unseen and without meeting you in person.
  • A cashier's check is offered for your sale item as a deposit for an apartment or for your services.
  • Value of cashier's check often far exceeds your item—scammer offers to "trust" you, and asks you to wire the balance via money transfer service.
  • Banks will cash fake checks AND THEN HOLD YOU RESPONSIBLE WHEN THE CHECK FAILS TO CLEAR, sometimes including criminal prosecution.
  • Scams often pretend to involve a 3rd party (shipping agent, business associate, etc.).

3. Someone requests wire service payment via Western Union or MoneyGram:

  • Deal often seems too good to be true, price is too low, or rent is below market, etc.
  • Scam "bait" items include apartments, laptops, TVs, cell phones, tickets, other high value items.
  • Scammer may (falsely) claim a confirmation code from you is needed before he can withdraw your money.
  • Common countries currently include: Nigeria, Romania, UK, Netherlands—but could be anywhere.
  • Rental may be local, but owner is "travelling" or "relocating" and needs you to wire money abroad.
  • Scammer may pretend to be unable to speak by phone (scammers prefer to operate by text/email).

4. Distant person offers to send you a cashier's check or money order and then have you wire money:

  • This is ALWAYS a scam in our experience—the cashier's check is FAKE.
  • Sometimes accompanies an offer of merchandise, sometimes not.
  • Scammer often asks for your name, address, etc. for printing on the fake check.
  • Deal often seems too good to be true.

5. Distant seller suggests use of an online escrow service:

  • Most online escrow sites are FRAUDULENT and operated by scammers.
  • For more info, do a google search on "fake escrow" or "escrow fraud."

6. Distant seller asks for a partial payment upfront, after which they will ship goods:

  • He says he trusts you with the partial payment.
  • He may say he has already shipped the goods.
  • Deal often sounds too good to be true.

7. Foreign company offers you a job receiving payments from customers, then wiring funds:

  • Foreign company may claim it is unable to receive payments from its customers directly.
  • You are typically offered a percentage of payments received.
  • This kind of "position" may be posted as a job, or offered to you via email.