U.S. Embassies and Consulates frequently receive inquiries from people who have been victimized by Internet scammers. These scams are attempts by con artists to convince you to send them money by developing an online friendship, romance or business partnership, then exploiting that relationship to ask for money.
The most common scams involve messages sent from social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, dating apps like Tinder and Match, etc. The person claims they are a U.S. citizen, usually with an interesting job like U.S. soldier, U.S. diplomat, a doctor for an international aid organization, millionaire business owner, etc.
These con artists are very convincing and troll the Internet for potential victims, spending weeks or months to build a relationship. To back up their fake stories, they use real people’s passports or photos of models and soldiers stolen from the internet. Once they have gained their victim’s trust, the scammers create a false situation to ask for money. Scammers can be very clever and deceptive, creating sad and believable stories that will make you want to send them money. After the person receives the money, they disappear or will ask for more money.
Before you send funds, check to see if you recognize any of the following red flags as warning signs, and realize you may be a potential victim of a financial scam:
- You have NEVER met your friend in person. All communication with your friend / boyfriend / girlfriend / fiancé / has been strictly online, and usually only by text messages.
- The person claims they are being detained at Vienna airport or local jail pending payment of an entry free, exit fee, customs or duties. Austria does not have entry or exit fees, and custom issues rarely involve detention.
- The person claims they are a U.S. soldier or U.S. government official who has suffered a serious injury and needs assistance to return to the United States, or claims they need money to travel home to visit a sick relative. These are all lies. The U.S. military and U.S. government have systems in place to evacuate military servicemembers and employees who are injured or need to visit families in the United States for emergencies.
- The person claims they are a U.S. military servicemember who wants to visit you for “R&R” vacation but need you to send money or a credit card so they can buy plane tickets. Again, these are all lies. The U.S. military has systems in place for service members to travel on leave.
- The person claims they need your help to pay an Austrian “exit fee,” or claim they need the U.S. Embassy to issue them an “exit letter” to take leave. Military personnel do not need Embassy permission to take leave, and Austria does not charge exit fees to leave the country.
- The person claims they contacted the U.S. Embassy but were refused help. The protection of U.S. citizens abroad is the top priority of U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide.
- The person claims they are detained at the U.S. Embassy pending payment of a fee or passport problem. U.S. embassies do not detain people.
- The person’s luck is incredibly bad – he or she has been in a car crash, arrested, mugged, beaten, hospitalized, etc. They claim their family members are dead or unable to assist.
- The person has many excuses why they cannot directly contact the U.S. Embassy for help, yet they are somehow able to communicate with you and you alone.
- The person sends you a copy of their U.S. passport as “proof” they are a U.S. citizen, but the passport contains spelling errors, inconsistent fonts, and a “Photoshopped” image that does not meet U.S. passport photo standards.
- The person claims to have been born and raised in the United States but uses poor grammar and spelling indicative of a non-native English speaker.
- The person claims to be in Austria but asks you to send money to an account in a third country, such as Nigeria.
- You sent money to the scammer for visas or plane tickets, but they always have a new excuse why they cannot travel, often citing detention by military or immigration officials.
- For non-US citizens, the person claims you won the Diversity Visa (DV) lottery and asks you to send money to claim your “Green Card”. This is a SCAM. There is NO COST to enter the DV Lottery. The official application form and all communications about the DV program will be sent via the U.S. Government’s official DV lottery website at https://dvprogram.state.gov/. Click HERE to read more about DV Lottery-specific scams.
The U.S. Embassy strongly cautions against sending money to anyone you have not personally met.
If you believe you are the victim of an Internet scam:
DO NOT SEND MONEY. Unfortunately, any money that you may have already sent is probably not recoverable.
END ALL COMMUNICATION WITH THE SCAMMER IMMEDIATELY. Do not attempt to resolve the situation with the scammer. If you feel threatened, contact your local police at once. Do not attempt to personally recover the funds lost.
REPORT THE SCAM
- File a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center — a partnership among the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BIA) — at ic3.gov. Also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
- If you are in Austria, report the scam to the Austrian Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt/“BKA”), Cyber Crime Unit, Austrian Ministry of Interior. E-mail: email@example.com. Website: https://bundeskriminalamt.at/602/start.aspx
- If the scam originated through a particular website, social media platform or app, notify the site administrators.
- For more information on International financial scams, visit: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/emergencies/scams.html
If you believe this is a real emergency involving a U.S. Citizen, call local police and contact U.S. Embassy Vienna’s Consular Section for assistance.