Online Fraud

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Unfortunately, online fraud is a rapidly growing business. The speciality of the Artists Against 419 will always be advance fee fraud and fake banks, but we combat a wide range of online scams.

Remember, just because we don't describe it here, doesn't mean it's a legitimate opportunity. To sum up all these descriptions into one short sentence: If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Still not sure? Contact us.

Advance Fee Fraud (419)

You've been contacted by a desperate individual who needs your help moving millions of dollars from one country to another. For your assistance, you get undying gratitude and -- more appealing -- a percentage of the amount to keep. The catch? The fund doesn't exist, and it's just a trick to get you to send fees overseas.

More information about Advance Fee Fraud


There isn't much honor among thieves -- at least not the modern internet thieves. Lots of 419 spams float around, looking for folks who are already sucked into an advance fee fraud, in an attempt to steal them away from the original scammers and get them tied into a new scam gang.

Compensation for your past efforts

Once you're out of cash, scammers will eventually drop you. But even if they've ignored you for years, you're not safe -- eventually your dear friend from the past will drop another line, cheerfully inform you of his/her eventual success, and generously offer you a large sum for your past efforts. The catch? You need to pay a couple hundred in courier fees to get the check sent out to you.

I'm happy to inform you about my success in getting those funds transferred under the cooperation of a new partner. Presently I am in Poland for investment projects with my own share of the total sum. Meanwhile, I didn't forget your past efforts and attempts to assist me in transferring those funds despite that it failed us some how. Now contact my secretary... and ask him to send you the total sum of $800, 000, 00 which I kept for your compensation for all the past efforts and attempts you made to assist me in this matter.

Please do let me know immediately you receive it so that we can share the joy after all the suffer ness at that time. In the moment, I am very busy here because of the investment projects which I and the new partners are having at hand.Finally, remember that I have orwardedinstruction to the secretary on your behalf to receive the money, so feel free to get in touch, as he will release the amount to you without any delay.

We caught the scammers!

There are plenty of fake "law enforcement" officials in the 419 world, and they're all happy to track down and arrest those nasty scammers who stole your money. (Of course, they don't tell you it's usually the same gang, just with new identities.) Private investigators are a variation of this.

Anybody who promises they can get your stolen money back is filling your head with empty promises. They're lying about that possibility just as much as the original scammers lied about having millions to give away.

Your funds are available via ATM card

The good news they give? The transaction is finally successfully concluded (apparently). The bad news? You have to pay a courier fee to GET this special card...

Example 1: This is to officially inform you that we have verified your payment file.... Right now we have arranged your payment through our swift card payment center Asia pacific, that is the latest instruction from Economic community of west African States (ECOWAS) and Nigerian Government. This card center will send you an ATM card which you will use to withdraw your money in any ATM machine in any part of the world....

Example 2: It was Resolved and Agreed upon that your Heritance Fund would be released on a special method of payment , which tag Name Reads SWIFT CREDIT CARD. This method of payment is designed by the Government to avert fraud perpetration or stoppage of fund by Some Agencies... The SWIFT CREDIT CARD would be delivered to you via Courier.

Fake Lotteries

Originally a subset of 419, this has really grown into its own industry. A victim gets an email stating that their address has won the lottery, including a ticket number, reference code, tracking number, and various important sounding clauses.

Some aa419 members now have cumulative fake lottery winnings numbering in the billions of dollars (not to mention the cars and computers that are often thrown in). Remember, you can't win a lottery you didn't enter (especially a foreign lottery!), there is no such thing as a lottery tied to email addresses, and you never have to pay transfer, shipping, or paperwork fees if you DO win a lottery. All those modalities are inventions of 419 scammers.

More information about Advance Fee Fraud

Escrow and Online Auction Fraud

Job Scams

A work-from-home job sounds great, especially one that only requires less than an hour's work every week. So that email offer you got sounds perfect, doesn't it? Slow down -- it's a scam, and you're looking at serious trouble if you get suckered in. The "employer" might be a textile company, a money transfer company, an artist, even a charity (UNICEF is frequently used). It doesn't matter who's offering to pay you, it matters what they're asking you to do...

Money Mule

There's two ways these job scams operate:

  • Scammer sends fake check to "employee". The check will eventually bounce, but not before a large portion of cash has been sent overseas and can not be retrieved.
  • Scammer uses "employee" to launder phishing funds, or to receive payments for fake auctions.

Either way, the employee ends up being criminally responsible for any money they transfer overseas -- either they must pay back the bank that cashed the bad check, or they must pay back the other victims who sent them money. Beyond financial consequences, money mules can face serious legal trouble (even jail time) as well.

An excellent description of money mule scams is found at Bank Safe Online.

Reshipping Scam, aka Postal Forwarding Scam

Yet another work-from-home job offer. In this version, you are asked to receive packages (often high-priced electronics), and send them on to a foreign country. What the "company" doesn't mention is that the items had been purchased with stolen credit card numbers, and by accepting the job, you'll be in the middle of an international theft ring. When the police track down who received stolen property, your address will be the first stop they make!

Fake Sellers

Fake Electronics Stores

These scammers are usually selling electronics (mobile phones, digital cameras, laptops, video game consoles) at "wholesale" prices. Often, initial contact is made through Alibaba or other online business exchange sites; these crooks also like to spam forums and guestbooks with offers of cheap goods. If you can't independently verify the existence of a store, don't just trust they exist -- it's a scam.

Fake Pet Shops

There are a LOT of regulations concerning international sale and shipment of animals, especially for rare, endangered, or invasive species. Unfortunately these are frequently ignored, and black market animal sales are prevalent. Piggybacking on these illegal activities are fake pet shops, who sell monkeys, rare birds, and even horses online. However, the animals don't exist, and you'll lose anything you pay for them.

As a follow-up scam, your new pet ships, but then gets stuck in a customs office. Animal lovers don't want to see a poor creature die starving and alone in a box just because of red tape and bureaucracy, so more fees are quickly paid to expedite the clearance process.

Fake Buyers

Fake Payments

Imaginary Payment Confirmations

For example, you may receive a payment confirmation from or These are fake (or more accurately, imitation) payment services, and there isn't really any money waiting. However, the crooks hope you won't worry, and ship them the auction item anyway.

Fake Checks

The seller is international, and pays with a check. Scammers like to use fake checks to pay for items sold online. It can take up to three weeks sometimes for banks to reject a bad check (depending on the quality of the forgery), even if it "clears" in a few days -- that's how long it takes for the check to physically arrive at the paying bank for examination and confirmation.

Watch out for international buyers with strange stories or excuses. Never agree to forward cash to either the buyer or their "authorized agent."

Oops, I wrote too big a number

Whoops, the check is for too much! Please just forward the overage back to me by Western Union or MoneyGram....

Send the "overpayment" on to my agent

I'm sending this laptop/camera/phone on to my son/nephew/friend overseas. Please send the overage in cash by Western Union or MoneyGram to the shipping agent when you send the item....

Fake Shippers or Couriers

Fake Escrow Companies

There are very few legitimate escrow businesses that deal with online sales, and thousands of fake escrow businesses that steal money.

Counterfeit Stores

Beyond being illegal because of trademark violations, counterfeit goods are frequently made with lower quality materials or manufacturing processes, resulting in substandard and even hazardous products. (For example, counterfeit brand-name sunglasses lack UV protection and easily shatter, putting their wearer's eyes at risk.)

The counterfeit goods store will sell a wide range of products (Nike, Prada, Gucci, Adidas, Rolex) -- any name brand or luxury good can and will be imitated. Often they state they have their own factory, or produce "OEM" products independently from the real brand's factories. (There is a subset of counterfeit goods stores that are in fact fake stores, and will take your money without providing products in return. It is not possible to tell the "honest" counterfeiters from the counterfeit counterfeiters.) These "stores" are run by the same folks who send out all that "REPLICA WATCHES" spam.


Phishing is one of the first steps of identity theft. A scammer sets up a site which looks exactly like eBay, PayPal, or your personal bank. They send spam stating that new security measures are in place, and account holders should log in to verify the new information (or reactivate their account, or verify a purchase, the excuses are endless). When a victim DOES log in following the provided link, however, the bogus site captures their login and password -- which the scammer can then use however he wants.

The only reason phishing is last on our list is that we don't deal with it much. However, there are loads of great resources that do:

  • Report phishing URL's that you receive to the Netcraft Toolbar, and FireFox 2 browsers will automatically warn users that it's bogus
  • If you have received a phishing email and would like to submit it to Anti-Phishing Working Group, please send it to reportphishing @ (Don't forget to include full headers.)
  • MillerSmiles has an archive of hundreds of thousands of phishing spams received over the years.