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Advance Fee Fraud Scams Explained

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Advance Fee Fraud: Hardly a day goes by that most people don’t stumble upon a strange email (or several!) in their inbox. Most spam filters do a good job of catching these, but often they slip through. Some are dubious advertisements (like Viagra or ‘guaranteed’ weight loss) — typical spam. Then there are the messages which purport to be from your bank, or email provider, or some other official or trusted service such as Amazon or eBay, insisting that you “confirm” your account by clicking a link and inputting your password and/or other personal data. Those are known as phishing mails, the foundation of identity theft. 

And then there are the exciting announcements informing you that you’ve just won a lottery that you never entered; or pleas from a poor orphan in a refugee camp who needs your help getting their fortune out of the hands of the authorities to invest them in your country; or the many dying widows, barristers, African gold miners, loan lenders, US army officers in Iraq,  UN General Secretaries, or even Hillary Clinton, John Kerry or the family of the late Colonel Ghadaffi himself, all asking for your help — and promising huge fortunes.

Too good to be true? You bet. All of those different kinds of mails are scams, known as “Advance Fee Fraud” or AFF.

The common characteristics of these mails are that no matter who they claim to be from, they all offer you some kind of unbelievable deal – lottery winnings, an inheritance, an incredible investment return, a compensation or a cheap loan.

However, to obtain these incredible life-changing fortunes you must pay a small fee of some kind. It can be a transfer fee, a required charge for some obscure legal documents, payment for shipping goods, or just about anything else a crafty scammer can dream up to coerce you to give him your hard-earned money.

Invariably the fee has to be sent through a money transfer service like Western Union and MoneyGram, and usually to a different name than the person you are corresponding with – a “secretary” or some other kind of “assistant”.

But it doesn’t end there. Once the required fee has been paid and your fortune is about to come to your doorstep, a small problem comes up, requiring another fee to be paid. And then another. And another. And so it goes, just until the victim is bled dry and up to his or her neck in financial problems. It is all too common for victims to end up with depression, broken marriages, ruptured family ties, and ruined lives.

In this series of articles, we will go over the Advance Fee Fraud phenomenon, its history, the different types of AFF and how they work, and how to identify and report scam emails you might receive. Please bookmark this site and check back for frequent updates.