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International Financial Scams Targeting U.S. Citizens Abroad


U.S. citizens can become victims of scams at home or abroad. There are many different types of scams, but they all share a common goal: monetary gain for the scammers.

Scams Targeting U.S. Citizens at Home or Abroad

Romance Scam:

  • Someone you have not met in person quickly offers friendship, romance, and/or marriage.
  • Be skeptical if the person asks for money to pay hospital bills, visa fees, or legal expenses and/or seems to have many sudden problems overseas.
  • Check this online dating scam infographic.

Grandparent/Relative Scam:

  • A person contacts grandparents or other relatives pretending to be a grandchild, niece, nephew, or other family member who needs money right away.
  • The scammer usually asks the person contacted to keep it a secret.
  • Reach out immediately and directly to the family member purportedly needing money to verify the situation.

Drug Trafficking Scam:

  • The scammer makes contact by phone or email and offers a job overseas, the opportunity to do charity work, or requests someone to transport documents/items for them.
  • These scams often begin as romantic relationships.
  • Typically, the scammer offers to pay all travel expenses and offers free luggage and/or asks the person to stop in a third country to pick up something. The luggage/item(s) will contain drugs, and the victim may face arrest at the destination.
  • Be cautious if someone asks you to transport anything to another country and report it to airline and border authorities before you travel.

Lottery Scam:

  • The perpetrator promises significant prize money, but the recipient must pay taxes and other processing fees up-front for winning a foreign lottery.
  • If you did not purchase a lottery ticket in this foreign country, it is highly unlikely that you can win a prize.
Scams Targeting U.S. Citizens Abroad – Turkey Drop (Wallet/Money Drop) Scam:

An unsuspecting tourist spots a wallet or packet of cash on the ground. The scammer picks it up and asks if it belongs to the tourist, showing a wad of currency, and tries to get the tourist to touch it. Another person approaches and claims the wallet belongs to him, then accuses the tourist of trying to steal it. The two scammers then either threaten to call the police unless the tourist pays them not to get the police involved, or they ask to see the visitor’s money to prove s/he didn’t steal theirs. When the tourist takes out his money, they grab it and flee.

Teahouse/Restaurant/Bar Scam:

A young “English student” or attractive female offers to show a tourist around town and then invites him/her to enjoy food or drink at a nearby establishment. The visitor is often taken to a dimly lit back room and given a menu with small print. Sometimes, the visitor’s beverages will be spiked with drugs to impair vision and/or judgment. When the bill arrives, the host leaves and the establishment sends very large men to force the visitor to pay an exorbitant bill before leaving the premises or face assault.

Arthouse/Rug Sale Scam:

A young “art student” will approach a visitor (often at large tourist sites) and ask if s/he likes artwork created by local students. The student invites the visitor to view the artwork at an art studio or gallery and will pour tea and provide snacks while introducing their art. The art student will then pressure the visitor to buy artwork and demand compensation for the hospitality shown. The same scam is used by rug salesman in many countries.

Airport/”Bag Watching” Scam:

A friendly stranger asks someone to watch his/her bag or purse. The stranger leaves and returns with a police officer or someone posing as one. The bag may contain drugs or other illegal items. The perpetrators then extort money or other valuables to avoid hassles with the police.

Shell/Card Games:

Scammers set up a game on crowded sidewalks in high tourist areas. They use three shells (or cups) with a small ball underneath one. They move them around and then stop, asking the audience to bet which one the ball is under. Their accomplices in the audience guess correctly the first few times, and then they let regular tourists get involved. They allow the tourists to win and place higher and higher bets, until the scammer palms the ball and causes the tourists to lose – sometimes hundreds of dollars.

Tips to protect yourself – and your money – from scams:

  • Generally, never send money to someone overseas if you have not met in person – especially if you have met only online.
  • Do not disclose personal details over the phone or online – even in your social media.
  • Refer someone claiming to be a U.S. citizen in distress overseas to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
  • Contact Overseas Citizens Services at 888-407-4747 if someone claiming to be a U.S. citizen overseas says the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate will not help. We can offer tips for verifying if the situation is legitimate or a scam.
  • Consider sending money to a person claiming to be a U.S. citizen through the Department of State’s “OCS Trust” program, which requires the recipient to show a photo ID to collect the money. Contact the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest the person for more information.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI at if you have been the victim of a scam.
  • Report scams affecting seniors to the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470 and read Fighting Fraud: U.S. Senate Aging Committee Identifies Top 10 Scams Targeting Our Nation’s Seniors.
  • Before traveling abroad, research your destination.
  • Be aware that something that seems too good to be true usually is.
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