Scammed by a Foreigner, What Are My Legal Options?

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They are a routine part of our modern, online world: Internet scams are a daily annoyance for many. Often found in annoying emails, website popups, and other dark corners of the web, these digital scam artists seem to be everywhere today. And, with many of these scams operating overseas, it has left many to wonder what they can do if they fall victim to the tricks of someone from another country.

Prevention is the First Step

As with any scam, con, or other fraud, being aware that someone may be trying to take advantage of you is usually the best defense. Once the con has been put in motion, it is often difficult or impossible to recover what has been lost. So, spotting the trickster before falling victim to his ploy is the best option.

There are a number of very common scams on the Internet. Here are a few that you are likely to encounter:

1. Payment Swap. This is an oldie but apparently still a viable one given how often we all get their annoying emails. In this routine, you have somehow been identified as either the heir to a vast fortune or someone who can help with moving someone's money out of the hands of a corrupt government / bank / rival heir. The scammer asks you to accept a check that you will deposit in your bank. You then turn around and send money either back to them or to what they tell you is a third party somewhere else, usually via a means you cannot take back like a money order, money transfer service, etc. Of course, the check they have sent to you is bogus, often not even attached to a real bank account, so it bounces and you are left holding the bag.

This scam has many variations, including some for professionals. One that has started to infiltrate the legal profession, for example, is someone posing as a foreign client that asks a lawyer to hold funds in a trust account. They agree to sign up as clients, but will generally refuse to provide any personal information or make appearances in person. Whatever transaction they are attempting to negotiate miraculously goes through without any intervention by the attorney, so all they need the attorney to do is send them back their money from the trust account less any attorney fees incurred. Of course, since the original check was invalid, there never were any funds to put into the trust account, and the whole thing leaves the lawyer in hot water.

Another variation targets those looking for work. The victim is “hired” as a personal assistant, bookkeeper, or for another job where they might come in contact with money. The scammer sends a fake check and asks the victim to deposit it into their personal account and use the funds to pay some of the boss's obligations. Of course, the check the scamming boss sends is fake.

2. Fake Products / Services. Another favorite is the fake product or service. You receive a message or click on a popup advertisement for something that sounds almost too good to be true (probably because it is). So, you click on the link and put in your billing information. You are told your product will arrive in a few days or your service will be performed by some date in the future. After a while you realize the thing your ordered has not arrived or occurred and try to do something. Unfortunately, you are probably just beyond the window for most credit card charge-backs or the company has suddenly closed its accounts and there is no way for you to get your money back.

Another variation is to have the victim perform a service which the scammer can resell, typically to a client the victim cannot identify. For example, anonymous writing or graphic design services. The scammer says he or she will pay within a week or two, but never does. At the end of the day, the victim has provided hundreds or even thousands of dollars of services which the scammer has re-sold as his or her own work without paying for any of it.

3. Fake Business Deal. This is a new and rising scam as more people have decided to become their own bosses and open small businesses on the Internet. The scammer poses as an investor, business advisor, or other person whom you would trust with sensitive information. They begin offering advice on how to raise capital, invest in assets, etc., all the while keeping the information provided. They then steal the victim's identity, go on a shopping spree, and vanish before the victim has caught on to what has happened.

There are countless other scams, but these are some of the more common ones. If you find yourself wondering if something is too good to be true, or why other people are not taking advantage of the strategy, product, or service you are about to use, there is probably a reason. Investigate the scenario and you will likely find reports all over the Internet about the particular scam, and can protect yourself from becoming a victim.

What to Do If You Are Victimized.

While some of these scam artists are located here in the United States, many are overseas. There are a great number of laws designed to protect you from scam artists, foreign or domestic, but they only work if the scammer is identifiable. Moreover, even if it is possible to identify the scammer, governments are not likely to cooperate across borders unless the individual(s) in question are operating on a large scale.

Still, all hope is not lost. You should contact law enforcement immediately to report the incident. In some instances this will help you recover your lost funds, particularly if there are credit card companies or other intermediaries involved. You can also avoid liability for some debts if they were the product of identity theft, but only if you report them to law enforcement.

If it is possible to identify the individuals responsible, even if the governments involved can take no action, you may be able to act civilly. Most of the countries of the world have treaties with the United States making it possible to perform service of process on people within their borders. If you can get those individuals served, you can initiate a lawsuit against them for your losses. Some foreign governments may even help you execute a judgment obtained in an American court against assets held by that individual overseas.

However, this process is often very complicated and can become quite expensive. Your best bet is to use the resources available on to find an attorney in your area who can help you pursue these issues. An attorney will be able to help you navigate the tricky waters of protecting your identity and assets from further tampering, making the appropriate reports, and pursuing alternative methods to recover your losses.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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