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view detailsDisaster Scams: Profiting from misery

A guide to recognizing disaster scams on the Internet - scammer phrases and scam prevention ground rules

by Annie McGuire, March 29, 2011

Here we go again. 

Every disaster, every war, every economic scare brings the scammers out in droves.  The earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan this month are no exception, nor are the conflicts in North Africa, and the one in Libya in particular.  Even Charlie Sheen's rant is bound to lead to bogus claims of a "Charlie Sheen Lottery" or money give away of some kind or claims that he needs you to help him move money out of the country.  Being the source of a scammer's persuasion is an equal opportunity circumstance.

Disaster is a scammer's pot of gold.  Individually and as a subculture, scammers literally grin like fools and rub their hands with glee at the prospect of reaping in mountains of money from those in need and from those who want to help stricken disaster victims.

Though we could give you a list of of the more common scams to watch out for in times of disaster, in fact scammers may begin with one scam and weave in anywhere from one to five more along the way, using a variety of fake names and titles.  The upshot is that their targets, unable to find an exact match for what their scammer is saying or the names he/she is using, believe their situation is different and not a scam at all.  As a consequence, they end up believe everything the scammer is saying.

To make disaster scams easier to detect, we are listing types of phrases (not all) that are typical to these scams.  No matter how the contact or correspondence begins, it inevitably leads to handling money - yours or someone else's:

  • I am sorry if my English is not too good ...

  • I have lost my (home, wife, husband, children) in the (earthquake, tsunami, both) ...

  • I need help getting money out of the country ...

  • I have money (at a security office, in a bank) that I need your help retrieving ...

  • I am stranded because all my identification and papers were washed away ...

  • My parents were killed. I am an orphan. My father left me money in an account and I need your help to (access it, move it) ...

  • Please send a donation to (me, my bank account, by Western Union or MoneyGram, to my attorney) ...

  • Lottery benefiting disaster victims ...

  • We are hiring you to collect charity donations ...

  • We are hiring you to buy products to send to ______.  We are sending you a credit card and shipping labels ...

  • I need your help to cash checks, money orders, receive wired funds ...

  • Thank you for helping me; I am falling in love with you - have fallen in love with you - want to marry you ...

  • ... entire family / businessman / whoever was killed in the disaster / war and left a large sum of money ...

  • I am a (pastor, priest, rabbi, etc.) collecting money for charity for disaster/war victims ...

  • My sister/brother in Christ ...

Rules of Thumb:

1. Never hand over your money or have financial dealings with someone you met on the Internet or any business you have not thoroughly researched.  It's the same as handing the keys to your house and car to someone off the street.

2. Listen to your primary instincts, however faint.

3. If it sounds to good to pass up or too good to be true, watch out!  You want a deal?  Wait for the 50% off sale at your local department store.

4. Nobody needs a total stranger to move money, regardless of the circumstances.  No business needs a stranger or employee to personally handle their money.  In this day and age, moving money is as easy as punching a button on the computer.  No legitimate business would ever turn over their money to an individual, relying on that person to not only have complete possession of it, but to forward it and not run off with it.

5. Never handle money that isn't your own.  There are licenses required to do that and a ton of legal paperwork required to meet compliance, risk management, and reporting laws.

6. It's not a matter of trusting people; it's a matter of trusting people too quickly.

7. It makes no difference how long the relationship has gone on: as soon as he/she asks you to handle money, it's probably a scam.

8. We hear this constantly: "But he was too nice to be a scammer!"  Being nice is a scammer's job.  The "con" in con artist is short for "confidence."  As in gaining yours.


Take the Backstage Tour: Go on a backstage tour to learn the true fraud secrets of financial scams - the plots, plans, and scripts swindlers use to separate you from your money.

Read Work at Home jobs.  The information applies to Relationship/Romance Scam victims as well as Employment Scam victims.




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