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U.S. Customs and Border Protection Advance Fee Scam

©iStockphoto.com/Yanik Chauvin

Angling for Victims
Don't become the catch of the day! Internet scammers use the promise of large sums of money as the bait to hook unwitting victims
Devious scammers use many and varied ruses to trick unsuspecting Internet users into parting with their money and confidential information. They use a seemingly endless variety of cover stories as the bait to catch their victims. And, to make their bogus stories seem more believable, they often dress up their scam emails with legitimate looking logos and links along with attached photographs that appear at first glance to support the scammers' fraudulent claims. Of course, logos and other images are taken without permission from their legitimate sources for use in the scam emails. Fraudsters are also apt to weave the names of well-known people, companies or government agencies into their stories as a means of further fooling potential victims. These names are used without the permission or prior knowledge of the people or entities to whom they rightfully belong.



In the scam discussed here, the criminals have sent out scam emails purporting to be from W. Ralph Basham, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. While W. Ralph Basham really is the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, neither he nor any other staff member at the agency is responsible for the email. The scammers have simply added the Commissioner's name and the name of the agency to the email in the hope that their claims will seem legitimate to at least a few recipients. The email claims that a diplomat named "Bruno Hans" has a package for the recipient and asks that he or she reply to the Commissioner to sort out delivery details. A copy of this initial "bait" email is included below:
Subject: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (A package for you)

Dear Sir,

A Diplomat named Bruno Hans has a package for you. I am writing to confirm if you are aware of the delivery of the package to you.

Kindly affirm that you are aware of the delivery of the package so that he can be allowed to do so. Endeavor to send your complete address with city name and zip code in your response to this mail.

W. Ralph Basham
Commissioner U.S. Customs and Border Protection
The sole purpose of this initial email is to get the recipient to reply. The scammers randomly distribute thousands of identical emails using long lists of email addresses harvested from various sources. Many of the emails will bounce because the email address is no longer valid or the mailbox is full. Many others will sit unread in webmail accounts that are rarely accessed. Many recipients who do get the email, will quickly recognize it as a scam attempt and delete it without reply. Others may be unsure, but are wise enough to do some research and will therefore find out that the message is a scam attempt before replying. However, just a few will be tricked into believing the claims in the email and will reply as instructed.

These few are the "fish" that the scammers are angling for. Even if only a tiny fraction of the thousands who received the initial email subsequently fall for the scam, the exercise will turn out to be a success from the scammers' point of view and they will reap a tidy profit for only a small outlay in time and expense.

One of the few who replied to the first scam email, soon received the follow-up email shown below:
Attn: [Name Removed],

This is to acknowledge the receipt of your affirmation and to inform you of the latest development as regards the delivery of your Consignment to your location.

While scanning the Consignment,our cash track machine detected that the content of the Consignment that the Diplomat (Bruno Hans) is delivering to you is cash.

It is a crime to bring in money (over US$10,000) into the UNITED STATES without proper documentations and clearance because it shows that the money is either being smuggled into the country or the source of the funds is questionable. It is very important that all the relevant documentations needed to authenticate the source of the funds are provided to prove that the funds were earned legitimately in accordance with the PATRIOT ACT so that the FBI, IRS and Homeland Security will not come knocking at your door.

In lieu of the above,It is therefore mandatory that you provide the Origin of Funds Certificate (O.O.F) to prove that the funds have no links with any form of illegality.

Being the beneficiary of the Consignment, the Origin of Funds Certificate (O.O.F) is the only way of confirming the source of the funds and it is your responsibility to provide the Certificate before the Diplomat will be allowed to complete the delivery to you .

The Diplomat's previous Flight Details shows that he came from London,United Kingdom.

We were informed that the beneficiary of the Consignment will pay for the Certificate and the cost of this documentation is $250 Dollars

You have to pay this fee directly to them via Western Union in the name stated below:

Name: Andrew McCollum
Address; London, United Kingdom.
Amount: $250
After paying the Fee,send the following payment information
1. Sender's Name and Address
2. Amount Sent
3. Reference Number

Upon the receipt of the payment information,the Certificate will be made out in your name by the London Authority, scanned and sent immediately via email to us so that the Diplomat will be allowed to complete the delivery of your Consignment to you.

Failure to pay for this documentation is a confirmation that you wanted to smuggle the funds into the country which is a federal offense and a gross violation of the the Patriot Act.

and we have contacted the relevant Authorities in that country to inquire about the process of getting the Certificate immediately.It is therefore in your best interest that you pay for the Certificate as instructed immediately as the consequences of refusing is very severe.
W. Ralph Basham
Commissioner
U.S Customs and Border Protection
Once the potential victim has taken the bait, the scammers then begin to reel him in by claiming that a large consignment of cash is his for the taking if only he will pay an upfront fee of $250 for an "Origin of Funds Certificate". To further the fragile illusion of legitimacy, the scammers included the following photographs of the "consignment" in the email. (I have added the words "Image used in scam email" to help prevent others scammers from stealing and using these photographs):

Handling the Package

Cash Consignment

Of course, the supposed cash consignment does not exist. The photographs of the money are no doubt stolen from a website or publication and have no connection whatsoever to the fraudulent claims made in the scam emails. If the hapless victim is fooled into sending money for the "Origin of Funds Certificate", more demands for money, supposedly for other fees and delivery expenses, are likely to follow. These demands for advance fees will continue until the victim runs out of money to send or belatedly realizes that he or she is being scammed.

The scammers may also try to extract confidential personal and financial data from the victim with the aim of stealing his or identity.



Once you are aware of how these scammers operate, it is not at all difficult to recognize any scam emails that may come your way. Be wary of any unsolicited emails that claim that you are eligible to receive a large sum of money. Don't be fooled by the inclusion of images or names that seemingly back up the claims in such messages. The Internet makes it very easy to find and use images without the permission of their owners. Email and the Internet also make it very easy to pose as someone else, such as the head of a government agency, or the CEO of a high profile company.

The links below point to further information about advance fee scams:


Last updated: 4th February 2009
First published: 4th February 2009

Write-up by Brett M. Christensen