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BBB: Beware of foreign scams

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The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is receiving reports from businesses and consumers in the area who have received suspicious faxes allegedly sent by the son of Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia who is currently on trial for war crimes at The Hague.

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The fax tells recipients they might be entitled to 30 percent of $177 million being kept in a secret bank account. The BBB is advising the public to disregard these faxes as they are fraudulent.

"This is simply a variant of the Nigerian scam," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. "Anyone who makes the mistake of following up on this 'offer' will soon find themselves being asked to put up their own money to pay taxes or fees on the non-existent funds. Not only that, but they'll be putting themselves in contact with potentially dangerous people."

The Nigerian scam, which has been perpetrated worldwide, targets small businesses, churches, and other non-profit organizations. A letter marked "urgent" or "confidential" arrives from Nigeria via mail or fax. The sender claims to be an official of a company or government ministry, or has an official-sounding name such as doctor, chief, lawyer, or prince. Some letters are written on "government" stationery.

Although each letter may contain a slightly different appeal, the "official" asks for assistance in transferring millions of dollars of excess money out of Nigeria. The person proposes depositing the money in a trustworthy U.S. bank account, in exchange for which the account-holder will receive 30 percent or more of the transferred funds.

To participate in the deal, the business or individual must provide their bank account number and the name, address, phone and fax numbers of the bank.

Using the provided information, the con artists can then plunder the victim's bank account. Or they may try to get money directly by requesting exorbitant payments to cover transfer fees, travel expenses, taxes, or necessary bribes before the transaction can occur.

Once the money has been wired, the scammers typically disappear and are hard to trace. Needless to say, no one has ever received the promised funds, and losses from participating in illegal foreign business deals are nearly impossible to recover.

If you're tempted to respond to an offer like this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) suggests you stop and ask yourself two important questions: Why would a perfect stranger pick you -- also a perfect stranger -- to share a fortune with, and why would you share your personal or business information, including your bank account numbers or your company letterhead, with someone you don't know?

The U.S. Department of State also cautions against traveling to the destination mentioned in letters such as these. According to State Department reports, people who have responded to these solicitations have been beaten, subjected to threats and extortion, and in some cases, murdered.

If you receive a fax like this, you can report it to the FTC at www.ftc.gov. People who receive an offer via e-mail from someone claiming to need their help getting money out of Nigeria - or any other country - should forward it to the FTC at spam@uce.gov.

If you have lost money to one of these schemes, call your local Secret Service field office. Local field offices are listed in the telephone directories.

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