FAQ and Support

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Who are the Artists?

We are an international community of individuals dedicated to fighting advance fee "419" fraud and other online scams. Our goal is to educate the public about how dangerous it can be to trust a "company" just because they have a nice web site. We offer a complete public interface for our site visitors, as well as database access through webservices which can be used for automated retrieval of fake site entries. Web browser toolbars use our database feed to warn users of fraudulent web sites. But most importantly, we continue to build relations with webhosting companies and registrars to get fraudulent web sites off the Internet.

Many people ask why we prefer to stay anonymous. The answer is simple: we prefer it if criminals don't know exactly who we are! When their web sites go offline, it costs them a great deal of time and money to explain to potential victims why the company, bank, lottery, or whatever, can't stay online. This tends to make them angry, and that anger is directed at us for "ruining their jobs". Some of our members have gotten threatening phone calls from angry criminals -- so now, for all of our safety, we hide our identities.

What sort of sites are these "fake sites"? Are they really illegal?

Fake sites are the infrastructure of advance fee fraud scams. (Wondering what advance fee fraud is? Find out here.) By posing as a legitimate financial institution, a bank site can add credibility to the story of a scammer. For example, Mariam Abacha might have deposited her millions of dollars with this "bank", and puts you in touch with the "banker" there to help transfer the money. Then, he is the one who will charge fees for various procedures, licenses, certificates, and so on.

In addition to trying to perpetrate fraud, these fake bankers violate numerous national and international laws just by posing as deposit-holding companies. Banks are required to be registered with the Financial Services Authority, Central Bank, or other regulatory agency in all countries in which they operate.

If you're curious about the difference between a fake bank and a phishing scam, please see our Phishing FAQ.

Why don't you report these sites?

We do! Every site reported to us is investigated, and if it is proven false, we add it to our database, we report it to the current Web site host, the police, and to other official bodies. The Artists want to stop Internet crime, and willingly cooperate with anyone who will help the fight.

Why aren't these criminals arrested?

The scammers hide behind false identities, use mobile phones and public Internet cafes to conduct their "business," are often ignored by corrupt local officials, and are well out of the jurisdiction of your local police force. The Artists do share information and work with law enforcement around the world whenever possible; however, the widespread international nature of 419 scams make invsetigation and prosecution difficult.

What is a flash mob?

Sometimes a Web host will ignore the evidence that a site is fake and refuse to act against it, although the existence of such a site is very often in clear violation of the host's own Terms of Service or Acceptable Use Policy. These sites can become the focus of a flash mob: an intense letter-writing campaign and in the past using other approaches, we seek to remind the host that these sites are fraudulent, created and operated by criminals solely for the purpose of deception. The intent is to create an anti-fraud message that the host can not ignore.

How do you know that the site is fake?

Banks are carefully regulated by different authorities around the world and the same is true for companies offering escrow services. Simply checking a site against a regulator's list is sufficient evidence to show that such a site is illegal. (Lotteries and many regular companies are subject to similar supervision, depending on the country.) One of our members has compiled an exhaustive list of financial (and company) regulators around the world. This is our one such resource for investigating potentially fake companies. A company claiming to sell and export commodities needs to be registered. A quick check can quickly expose a fake seller, or perhaps on spoofing a real company. There are many, many other indications that a site is probably fake; however, we prefer not to list them here, so the criminals will not learn how to disguise their fake banks better.

How can I find out if a site is a fake?

  • Look through our database of fraudulent sites. This is being constantly updated as new sites are identified and shut down. The gangs that create these sites often use the same business names, phone numbers, and designs on different sites.
  • There are a number of Online search tools that you can use to research banks and other types of companies.
  • If you have received an URL in e-mail and aren't sure about it, send it to us via our contact page. It might just be a fake we haven't found yet. Under no circumstances should you give money to someone just because someone has a web page, or you saw a Web page with your name on it!

I just won the lottery!

I have millions of dollars in the bank! I am getting a shipment of gold dust!

These are all typical Advance Fee Fraud scams. To find out more about advance fee fraud, see what Scotland Yard has to say: http://www.met.police.uk/fraudalert/419.htm

Also, see our links page which points to other resources about scams and scam-fighters.

The best rule of thumb you can follow is: if it sounds too good to be true, it is! Millions of dollars are lost every year by fraud victims, and this money is funneled back to the criminal gangs to fund their fraudulent activities. The fake sites we target are often paid for with stolen credit cards or victims' funds. Don't be a victim! Stop all communication with the scammers at once, and do not believe their stories.

Help! I think I'm being scammed! I lost money in a scam!

If you have already given money to a scammer, or suspect a scam, there are a number of sites that can help you:

Please be aware that the scammers will not rest: they will attempt to keep drawing money from you, using a variety of stories and tricks, including claiming that they can recover your lost funds. Scam victims are typically passed from gang member to gang member as each tries to work a new angle. The best thing you can do is stop all communication with them immediately. Block their emails, block their telephone numbers.