Living Abroad: Phone Scam Overview
The U.S. Department of State estimates that there are 9 million U.S. citizens currently residing abroad. Many Americans work in foreign companies, study abroad, choose to retire to a foreign country, or are pursuing a digital nomad lifestyle.
Americans living abroad can often find themselves targeted in elaborate scams that begin with a phone call and resemble the 419 advance fee scams that were very popular in the 90s.
Scammers Are Doing Their Research
In this scam an American living abroad is contacted by the "friend" of a friend who is thinking of moving to the same country. This supposed friend, is actually a scammer who has familiarized themselves with their victim via their social media profiles or blog. The scammer will create fake profiles and may actually seem to be friends with the person they claim to know. This is all just an elaborate set up to their scam.
Once the scammer makes initial contact, they'll start to build a rapport with you, asking questions about what life is like and if it's been difficult adjusting to your new home. They will tell you that they are interested in purchasing property, and will then give you their full itinerary of when they will be arriving to the country.
On the day of their arrival they will call you in a panic to tell you that they are being detained by customs because they are bringing too many checks into the country and they are going to be fined. They need to make a wire transfer to pay the fine, but can't do so while being detained at customs. The scammer will ask you to pay the fine and that they will pay you once they are able to leave the airport.
What You Need to Know
This is a common scam. Never trust anyone you have not personally met and never send money to a stranger. Scammers in these situations are counting on the trust and good faith of others. The scammer will create a sense of urgency and make their victim feel pressured to make the payment quickly.
When you take the time to look at the facts in this situation, you'll see that it makes little sense. The fact that someone would be stopped at customs and fined, but not be able to pay the fine there is highly unlikely.
Information is Power
It's a smart rule of thumb to keep your social profiles' privacy settings strong. Since this scam starts with information that scammers find online it's important to only share what's necessary on social media. Like romance scams, the scammer will build a rapport and friendship with you that first starts online.
If you're living abroad and you feel that you've been targeted by a scammer you should report it to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the U.S. embassy where you reside. It's likely that the scammer is targeting other Americans as well.