Red flags for cybercrime ‘advance-fee scam’ for international buyers

Cyber-crime takes many forms and can be perpetrated from anywhere; the individuals with whom you are communicating may not be located in the country they identify.

The Commercial Section of the U.S. Embassy Ghana strongly advises international companies to conduct due diligence on all potential new business partners in Ghana and other markets. “They should not automatically trust official-looking documents you may have received from them. Do your due diligence before sending any monies.”

International businesses periodically are lured into scams and fraud schemes originating – or just purporting to be in — in Ghana or the surrounding region.

The International Trade Administration can assist with this by reviewing correspondence or documentation received from potential partners and/or via one of their due diligence services such as the International Company Profile, which provides an in-depth or basic background check information on a specific foreign company to help determine its suitability as a potential business partner.  

These fraud schemes are often very creative and innovative. Victims are enticed into believing they have been singled out to share in a particular procurement or in a multi-million-dollar business venture. Other U.S. companies are simply approached by fraudulent buyers of their products who have studied the U.S company’s website closely, only to be led down a never-ending path of fees to facilitate that purchase.

“If a buyer asks you to advance monies to pay for miscellaneous fees (taxes, registration, bank fees, attorney fees, etc.) related to an export transaction, this is a scam.  If you have already lost funds or feel you may currently be involved in  a scheme, please contact your local Secret Service field office and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

Advance Fee Scheme

The most common scheme is the Advanced Fee Scheme. The following are common red flags to look for in terms of fraud and scams:  

  • Unsolicited offers to buy goods and services or participate in government tenders.  
  • In almost every case, there is a sense of urgency.
  • The victim may be encouraged to travel to Ghana or a nearby country.
  • There may be forged, yet official looking documents.
  • Most of the correspondence is handled by email, mail, or fax. 
  • Blank letterheads and invoices may be requested from the victim along with the banking particulars.
  • Any number of fees are requested for processing the transaction with each fee purported to be the last required.
  • The confidential nature of the transaction is emphasized.
  • There are usually claims of strong ties to local government officials.
  • A Ghanaian residing in the United States, London, or another foreign venue may claim to be a clearinghouse bank for the Central Bank of Ghana.
  • Offices in legitimate government buildings may be used by impostors posing as the real occupants or officials.
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The most common forms of these fraudulent business proposals fall into seven main categories:

  • Contract fraud (C.O.D. of goods or services)
  • Disbursement of money from wills
  • Purchase of real estate
  • Conversion of hard currency
  • Transfer of funds from over invoiced contracts
  • Advance fees or ‘gifts’ requested to enable U.S. company to be awarded lucrative tender
  • Advance fees to finalize an offer of employment of others

Recurring scams

Some of the recurring scams purporting to originate in Ghana claim to be affiliated with the following (fake) organizations. Please note that all of these organizations maintain elaborate websites as part of the scammers’ strategy to lure U.S. companies in and persuade them that they are legitimate:

By contrast, legitimate tenders and requests for the supply of goods from the Ghanaian Government are posted in official newspapers in Ghana such as the Business and Financial Times, the Daily Graphic and the Ghanaian Times and/or on the Ghana Public Procurement Authority (PPA) website.  

Gold: Issues related to the sale of gold must also be carefully noted. Individuals who purport to sell gold or precious minerals must be registered under the Minerals Commission and Precious Minerals Marketing Company, where they will hold a legitimate assay certificate. Buyers must check with these organizations to verify the sellers and their certificates before exchanging any monies.

Letter of Credit and Trade Finance Schemes: The U.S. Export Import Bank (EXIM) has created an informative video that lists common signs of fraud on export documents (applications, financial statements, invoices, bills of lading, export and customs certifications, and letters of credit). EXIM counsels companies to be on the lookout for: expired, altered or inconsistent documents; unclear fees or commissions; odd prices on invoices; and unverified suppliers or third parties, among other red flags.   

Additional resources: individuals and companies can find out more about the Advanced Fee Fraud Scheme at U.S. Embassy Ghana’s Financial Scams page.  Again, if you have already lost funds or feel you may currently be involved in  a scheme, please contact your local Secret Service field office and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

For more information, contact: or Tel: +233(0)30-274-1870 to inquire about due diligence services.

Source: International Trade Administration

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