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Financial Topics & Tips

Scammers Pull Heartstrings to Get to Our Money

There are a lot of scams being perpetrated by those who wish to make a quick buck. Some are very complex, but others are surprisingly simple to pull off and, therefore, they persist. Following are three of the most common types of scams that take advantage of human compassion.

Advance Fee Lottery

In this one, the victim is promised a prize, a service, or money with interest if he or she pays a “fee.” The most well-known of this type is the Nigerian Prince or “419” scam. The story goes that a Nigerian prince is in trouble due to unrest in his country. He needs the victim’s help to move large amounts of money into a U.S. bank account so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands. All it requires is that money be deposited into a bank account in Nigeria in the victim’s name first. Then the transfer of funds won’t be detected by the “bad guys.” Once the money is in the Nigerian account, it is promised that a large sum will be transferred to the victim’s U.S. bank account later as a thank you.

Another version of this is that the victim has somehow won a lot of money in a foreign lottery. All he has to do is send a “fee” and identifying documentation and the money will be sent. Of course, this does not ever happen, but that fee will never be seen again.

Remote Impersonation

In these types of scams, someone claims to be a friend of someone who is in trouble and requests monetary assistance on behalf of the person in trouble. Often it is supposed to be for an injured relative or friend. Sometimes, the fraudster claims help is needed to bring a friend or loved one home from overseas after he or she has been robbed.



Another popular version, referred to as a romance scam happens on online dating sites. The scammer will pose as a potential love-interest, gain the trust of the victim, and ask for money. Many times the poser pretends to be in the military, stationed overseas, and needs money to buy things like pre-paid phone cards to call home.

Disaster Relief/Charity/Dying or Sick Baby

Americans are an empathetic lot and scammers know it. That’s why scams persist that piggyback on natural disasters such as the Nepal Earthquake in 2015 or Hurricane Matthew that hit the east coast of the U.S. late in 2016. Often these become so successful because they spread very quickly on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.



The Dying or Sick Baby version is when someone pretends they have a very sick or dying child who needs medical care. The compassion for a sick child sets in and people donate to help pay the bills. There is also a “sick parent” version of this where someone requests financial help for a bus or train ticket to visit sick parents.




For all of these types of scams, there are some guidelines to follow to avoid being taken by them:

1.  Always take time to verify the story independently; even if it sounds like a very urgent matter and even if your heartstrings are pulled tight. It doesn’t usually take long to place a separate phone call to another person to confirm if a relative or friend is sick and really does need help. If you cannot verify it, don’t send money.

2.  If you are told that cash, a money service such as Western Union, or pre-paid cards are the only form of payment accepted, question the legitimacy of the request.

3.  When natural disasters happen and you want to send money, donate through a well-known and respected charity. They will accept payment cards on their websites.

4.  Beware of anyone who tries to place an undue sense of urgency on the matter. If it is a real need, taking a few moments to confirm it is not out of the question.

The Nigerian Prince or 419 scam is a newer version of the Spanish Prisoner Scam that started in the 16th century. As you see, it has been around and working for a very long time and is not going away any time soon. None of these will. Instead, they will likely morph into many new versions as technology changes. That is, as long as they are still working.  Don't be a victim to these scams.


Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 2017 Stickley on Security.  (February 14, 2017)