MIAMI - The holiday season is marked with many joyous celebrations, but it is also marked by scammers looking for their next would-be victim. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is increasing its outreach efforts to educate and warn consumers in Florida about the fraudsters who engage in telemarketing fraud, lottery scams, Internet and mass mailing scams, Nigerian fraud schemes and many other crimes.
Schemes may also include foreign currency trading, offers of nonexistent investments, bogus offers of "pre-approved" credit cards or credit card protection and tax fraud schemes. The classic is the Nigerian "4-1-9" scam, named after the section of Nigerian law that it violates. In this scam, a resident is contacted either via email or by mail and told that he/she has been contacted to assist in the transfer of a large sum of money from Nigeria or other West African countries. In this particular scheme, fraudsters link the source of the money to oil profits, hidden monies, or in the latest version, a long lost inheritance. Victims are asked to provide bank account and credit card information for the "up front' money required to assist in the transfer of the funds.
The emails look official and legitimate and even contain the names of true Nigerian companies and officials. Do not be fooled! Fraudsters have had a long time to perfect their craft and will do anything to make their correspondence look official. If you fall victim to these schemes, these fraudsters can compromise your computer information or at worst empty your bank account and max out your credit cards.
"The bottom line is that there is no "found" money waiting for you in Nigeria," said Anthony Mangione, special agent in charge of ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami. "No long lost wills, no lottery winnings, no "government" payouts, and any response to the solicitations by email, phone or any type of correspondence can have long lasting and dire consequences. We must remember the old adage- if it is too good to be true, it probably is."
Nigerian scams are not the only schemes use by fraudsters targeting residents in Florida. Telemarketing fraud, based out of Canada, is also increasing. In these scams, a person is contacted via telephone and told that he/she has won the Canadian lottery. The person represents himself/herself to be an official of ICE or U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and requests that duty/taxes be paid on the winnings prior to the lottery winnings being issued.
ICE cautions against falling for this scam. Neither ICE nor CBP contacts individuals and asks for duties in advance. If you are contacted by someone claiming to be representing ICE, please get their phone number and immediately call ICE's 24-hour tip line by dialing 1-866-DHS-2ICE (1-866-347-2423).
ICE has also seen these scammers target the elderly, churches and church groups. A church or religious group may be contacted and told that a wealthy foreigner has decided to leave the group a considerable sum to help them continue their good works. The fraudster subsequently requests bank account or other information to help with the scam, and once provided, the scam artist has full access to the church's accounts.
If you have been a victim of a scam and have lost money, do not be embarrassed. Do not attempt to contact the fraudsters. You need to contact U.S. authorities immediately. You may not get your money back, but ICE and its law enforcement partners may be able to get enough information from you to disrupt the scam or completely shut it down to prevent many others from potentially being victimized.