Other Scams, Hoaxes and Frauds

How to Recognise a Scam - Unexpected money & Winning Scams

Unexpected money and winnings scams approach the victim and promise new phones, big amounts of money (often in the form of an inheritance or lottery) and other great opportunities (e.g. free trips, cars). The biggest problem is that scammers pretend that you have completed a survey or helped someone, thus they have to give their fortune to you. There are 3 types of unexpected money scams: 

Inheritance scams 

Characteristics of an inheritance scam

If you are contacted by an unknown person by letter, email, text message, social media message or phone call, stating that you have inherited a great amount you may be approached by inheritance scam. The scammer will insist that you are a distant relative, they want to support the goals of your company or that you are just a good person.  
The scammer usually poses as a lawyer, a banker or other official that has the right to process the will. However, the process of receiving the inheritance is difficult and you have to send documents and more importantly money. In this type of scam, once the scammers have your attention, they can go to great lengths to send official-looking documents to sign. Sooner or later the cost will come up and slowly increase or the inheritance will be lost.

How to spot an inheritance scam? 

Unexpected contact: You are contacted out of the blue by an official, and they will quickly turn to a topic about money. Even they are using public email addresses like Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo, you can be nearly certain that they are scammers.  

The family member is unknown: Scammers rarely refer to a family member you know as you can easily check if the family member really passed away. Usually, you have never heard of the person before. 
Legitimacy is dubious: The more professional inheritance scammers can provide letters and emails with professional headings, logos, and signatures. The scammer can also send fake birth certificates, passport copies and bank statements that can be provided as well.  
Huge amount: To interest a victim, scammers promise a great amount of money. It can be up to millions. 
They want your data: Often they quickly ask for very personal information like your passport, bank account number, credit card details and other personal information. They state they need this information to verify you as a receiving party but will use the information to gain access to your credit card and bank account.  
They want money: Scammers will start asking for money and the amount will steadily increase. The reasons for asking the fees may differ. From doing the necessary paperwork to the transaction cost of sending the money to you or bribing local government officials (which is illegal in itself).  

How not to fall for an inheritance scam? 

The first step is to be realistic. What are the chances you inherit money from a person you have never met and did not know existed? Zero. 

If you still want to check it out (at your own risk) we recommend to take the following steps: 
Check documents: Whenever you receive a legal looking document and wondering whether you should respond, you can: 

  • Ask a person with a legal / financial background to validate the documents.  
  • Check for spelling mistakes or weird looking symbols.  
  • Contact the embassy of the country and ask them how you can check if the company who is contacting you is legit.  
  • Search online for the names and keywords of the letter. These might have been sent to many people so if they got scammed or are sure it is a scam, they might post it online. 

Ask a professional to help you: if there is really an inheritance you must report the transaction to the authorities anyway. Do not let greed get the better of you. Ask an accountant or tax advisor to help you. He can also validate the inheritance.  
Do not send documents or money: This is what the scammer wants. Never send money or provide sensitive information for people you do not know until you are 100% sure they are legit.  


Nigerian 419 scam 

Characteristics of the Nigerian scam 

The main characteristic that 419 or Nigerian scams do not come solely from Nigeria. It is called because the first wave of emails, letters, and messages came from Nigeria. The number "419" refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud, the charges, and penalties for offenders. However, the Nigerian scam (also called the Nigerian Prince scam, the Spanish Prisoner scam, the black money scam, etcetera) now originate from all over the world. 
Scammers will use any means of contact to approach the victims, stating there is a situation “Soldiers in Syria found a treasure but they cannot bring it to their country” or “during the political turmoil a large amount of cash got into hands of several people who need help to take money out of the country”. These and hundreds of other examples pursue victims to transfer money to unknown individuals. In the end, it is always about money which needs to be transferred (illegally) out of a country. 

How to spot a 419 scam? 

Unexpected contact: Once again you are contacted out of the blue with a message requesting help or a great opportunity. The message includes a story of how the person cannot transfer money easily and it requires a hefty process that has additional costs involved.  
They want money: For this easy help, you are promised a life-changing amount that will be yours after they complete the transactions. If you paid once, they will find ways to get additional money needed to pay fees, bribe a government official or pay taxes. 

How not to fall for a 419 scam?

Again, the first step is to take a moment to think. Why have they contacted you when there are so many other ways to get money out of a country? Why do they need money if they have money? Why should you get involved in something which is clearly illegal or at least very suspicious? 
Our recommendation is simply to break off any contact. Simple ignore the emails or if they keep contacting you state that you will forward their message to the police.   
Money: Never send money or provide sensitive information for people you do not know.  
Money laundering: Scammers might use terms such as money laundering to come clean and give you their share. Do not forget that money laundering is a criminal offense that can lead to time in jail. 
Check with a friend: If you receive the email, letter, phone call or a message on social media and you are wondering what to do, tell the story to another person. Just hearing it out loud will ring a bell and the other person might have critical questions. 
Search online: Check the names, addresses, and other relevant information online. These messages are sent to thousands and this will likely be shared. 

Rebate & Tax scams 

Characteristics of a rebate or tax scam 

The main characteristic of this scam is that you are contacted by a government or tax official stating that you paid too much taxes or that you are entitled to a reimbursement. Scammers of this type more often contact by phone, but emails and letters are common as well.  

How to spot a rebate scam? 
The documents the scammer may provide to you may be very professional and nearly impossible to identify as fakes. However, in the end, the scammer will always ask for: 
Your data: To transfer the money to you Scammers will ask for your passport or ID, bank account number and credit card details. Governments do not need this information as they already have it!  
Your money: Government officials will never ask to pay money in order to receive money. Scammers will make up a story that you need to pay transaction costs, administration fees or simply a bribe. Scammers also usually ask to send money via a wire or money transfer service or even pay with cryptocurrencies. These kind of money transfers are difficult to trace. 

How not to fall for a rebate or tax scam? 

If you are still unsure if the rebate or tax return is a scam or legit, take the following steps
Contact the organization/tax agency: Do not reply to the email and do not call a provided phone number. Officials always can be reached through official channels. Just by calling to the official organization you will find out that a person does not exist, or this is a scheme ran by scammers.  
Protect your identity: Scammers might insist you to provide your personal details and sensitive information. Do not do that unless you have checked with the organization through different channels.  
Search online: Check the names, addresses, and other relevant information online. These messages are sent to thousands and this will likely be shared. 

What to do if you fell for an unexpected money scam? 

It is important to stay calm. We have a few more tips on what to do in case you fell for an unexpected money scam.  

  1. Recover your money: Try to recover money by contacting your bank, credit card company or payment service provider.   
  2. Collect proof: Try to save all the details, conversations especially money transactions. This might come in handy while reporting to authorities.  
  3. Report the scammer: Report the scammers as much as possible, especially to the platform you were approached. Social media have built an automatic report system that makes it easier to do it.  
  4. Report the scam to the authorities: This is more of a formal procedure rather than practical, but this might help your neighbor in the long term. Scamadviser.com encourage to report every scam to local authorities so they can gather the information to explore the opportunities to help victims. 
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