The U.S. Embassy Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City strongly caution against sending money to individuals whom you have not met in person.
Avoiding Online Scams
Periodically, the American Citizen Services (ACS) units at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and Consulate General Ho Chi Minh City receive inquiries from people who have been victims of Internet scams. The most common scam we see involves calls, texts, or social media messages from a person claiming to be a U.S. citizen stationed abroad as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, a military contractor, or an employee of an international company or organization with offices in Vietnam. Often, these scams attempt to convince their targets to send them money by developing a friendship, romance, or business partnership online, and then exploiting that relationship to ask for money. We strongly advise you to NEVER send money to anyone you have not met in person.
Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attempts to obtain personal details from targets and cost U.S. citizens hundreds of millions of dollars each year. These scammers may spend weeks or months building a relationship before introducing sad, believable stories to ask for money or personal information from their victims. Some may even steal and use photos from real people to build their online identity.
There is no one group of people who are more likely to become a victim of a scam; anyone may be targeted by an elaborate scam at some point in time. The below are common online scams.
- Romantic scams: Scammers may create a fictional persona via social media platforms and online dating websites. They spend a long time building a relationship before creating a story about needing money that may sound believable. For example, they may claim to have been involved in a serious accident, or create additional fictious personas using web-based email addresses (such as Yahoo, Hotmail, or Gmail) to request funds for a “life-or-death” emergency on the behalf of the primary persona. You should be extremely wary of such requests, especially if you have never met the person.
- Financial scams: You might receive an email from a web-based e-mail address asking you to verify your bank account, or personal information that might give someone access to financial accounts. Many scammers use this technique to obtain personal information to make unauthorized transactions on your behalf.
- Identity theft: This is not as common a scam, but to build believable identities, scammers may try to obtain personal information from real people. Some of these attempts to mine for personal information may lead to financial scams, including opening bank accounts or credit cards under stolen identities.
The following are “red flags” to consider in your interactions with strangers online. If any of the below sound familiar, consider that you may be, or have been, the target of a scam.
- You have never met your friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancé/business partner in person; all your communication has been strictly online.
- The person sends you a scanned copy of their U.S. passport as “proof” they are a U.S. citizen, but the passport contains spelling errors, inconsistent fonts, and a “photoshopped” image that does not meet U.S. passport photo standards.
- The person claims they are a U.S. soldier who wants to visit you during their “R&R” vacation but needs you to send money or a credit card number to buy plane tickets. In a different variation of this same scam, the person may ask for money to cover emergency medical expenses. The U.S. military has systems in place for service members to travel on leave and receive medical care when injured on duty.
- You sent money to the person for visas or plane tickets, but they always have a new excuse why they cannot travel, including citing detention by military or immigration officials.
- The person claims they have been detained by local police or immigration officials and they need financial assistance to pay an immigration fee.
- The person seems to be experiencing several concerning events consecutively and claims they can only receive financial assistance from you. Although you have not met this individual in person before, he or she may claim to have been in a car crash, arrested, mugged, beaten, hospitalized, etc., and each time requires your financial assistance.
- The person has many excuses why they cannot directly call a local hospital or police station, or even the U.S. Embassy for help, yet they are somehow able to communicate with you alone.
- Other personas created by the same person may contact you to urge you to provide this person with financial assistance, even as they claim they cannot contact anyone else. Scammers often create multiple fictitious personas to build their credibility.
- The person elicits a sense of urgency when asking for money, stating that unless funds are received quickly something bad will happen to them.
- Do NOT send money. Unfortunately, any money that you may have sent is probably not recoverable.
- Guard your personal information. Do not disclose personal details online or over the phone. Scammers use a variety of tricks to get you to divulge passwords, account numbers, and sensitive identity information. Do not give people access to this type of information. Check e-mail addresses and links carefully before providing your information.
- Question everything. Ask yourself whether the information being provided makes sense. For example, if someone is in extreme danger or requires immediate assistance in a life-or-death situation and they can contact you, why would they not contact the police, a family member, or their Embassy directly?
- Cease communication. If you believe that you have been targeted by a scammer, do not attempt to resolve the situation or to personally recover the funds lost. You should cease all contact with the individual(s) or “organizations” immediately. It is hard to believe that someone you trust has targeted you in this way but replying will only encourage more scam messages. It is common for scammers to pose as different fictional people or organizations to convince you of their legitimacy.
- Report the scam immediately. Contact your local police at once, especially if you feel threatened. If the scam originated through a website or social media platform, notify the administrators of that website or platform. You can also file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Read the U.S. Department of State’s International Financial Scams website for additional information.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is a good resource if you are concerned about identity theft.