BBB Tip: Foreign Money Exchange Scams

The script may change -- sometimes it's a Nigerian prince, sometimes a wealthy businessman -- but the ploy is the same. A scam disguised as a chance to make a huge sum of money for helping transfer money.

foreign moneyBe wary of anyone who contacts you out of blue with an “opportunity” to make a fortune by helping him or her get money or valuables out of their home country. Many of these schemes originated in Nigeria, where they violate section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the label “419” or Nigerian fraud.

How the Scam Works:

You get an email from a government official, member of royalty, or a business owner offering a huge sum for help getting money out of their country. They want you to receive a bank transfer or to help in another capacity. Of course, the transfer does not prove to be easy. There are bribes, taxes, and legal fees to be paid. The scammer asks you to front these costs, which are to be repaid as soon as the money is out of the country. Of course, there are no millions.

Traditionally, scammers claimed to be from Nigeria, but con artists can turn on a dime when it comes to changing their cover stories—today a Nigerian prince, tomorrow a wealthy businessman. The script may change, but the ploy is fundamentally the same.

Tips to Spot This Scam: 

  • Be wary of strangers offering money. If an opportunity just falls in your lap (or your inbox) and appears too good to be true, it probably is. Be especially wary of individuals claiming to be overseas. Scammers often claim to be traveling or living overseas in order to avoid direct contact with the target. 
  • Be suspicious of transactions that involve additional fees. Scammers will often tempt you with a great offer (lottery winnings, a share of an inheritance) and request additional fees to further the transaction. Never share bank account numbers or other personally identifying information (PII) with someone you’ve never met.

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.

To learn how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams”.

Last Reviewed: March 7, 2017