Embassy Cotonou has recently seen a spike in the number of Americans who have fallen victim to scams from individuals and/or companies allegedly based in Togo. These fraud schemes pose dangers of both financial loss and physical harm.
Typically, these scam operations begin with an unsolicited communication, usually by e-mail, Facebook, or WhatsApp from an individual who describes a situation that promises quick financial gain, often by assisting in the transfer of a large sum of money or valuables out of the country. As a general rule, if it sounds too good to be true, it mostly like is.
Common e-mail or Facebook scams also involve an individual claiming to be a U.S. citizen who is “trapped” in Benin and needs financial assistance to return to the United States or receive urgent medical care. More sophisticated scams include targeting U.S. businesses and ordering a large amount of their product, if the U.S. business provides banking information or pays legal fees. In a variation of these Internet-based advance-fee schemes, individuals spoof or mimic official U.S. Department of State email addresses in an attempt to lend credibility to their fraudulent activities. The U.S. Embassy has seen a rise in schemes in which the criminals represent themselves as Beninese government officials or U.S. government agents or diplomats. They defraud investors of large sums of money.
The best way to avoid becoming a victim of fraud is to use common sense. Do not wire or transfer money to anyone you have never met in person. You should carefully check out any unsolicited business proposals originating in Benin before you commit any funds, provide any goods or services, or undertake any travel. If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a U.S. citizen in trouble, ask him/her to call the Embassy directly at (229) 2230-0650.
Beware of these early warning signs:
- A stranger (someone you have never met in person) asks for money to get out of a bad situation or to provide a service.
- The scammer asks you to send money via Western Union.
- The scammer has incredibly bad luck– often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized — usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
- The scammer claims to be a native-born U.S. citizen, but uses poor grammar or strange spelling indicative of a non-native English speaker.
- The scammer and the victim meet online – often through Internet dating, Facebook or employment sites.
- Photographs that the scammer sends of “him/herself” show a very attractive person. The photo appears to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photographic studio.
- Please read the attached Department of State brochure for more information on International Finance Scams.
If you feel you have been a victim of an Internet scam, please consult the above publication for help and send all direct reports of Internet fraud to the Federal Bureau of Investigation at: https://complaint.ic3.gov/default.aspx?
If the scam originated through a particular website, notify the administrators of that website. If you are concerned about an American in distress overseas, but you are not sure if it is a legitimate case, call the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 888-407-4747 (from overseas: 202-501-4444).
Call……888-407-4747 (from overseas: 202-501-4444) or the U.S. Embassy Cotonou directly at (229) 2130-0650.