Don’t get smished! Nigerian Prince (or heiress, or Hong Kong businessman, etc.) scam targets smartphone text messages

ID-100129142As technology changes, so do scammers. The scheme commonly known as the “Nigerian Prince Scam” has for years taken place mostly through email. (The scam might be known as “Nigerian,” but the crooks might be from anywhere in the world. There’s no way to tell who and where they REALLY are.)

Lately, though, scammers have taken this scam to cellphone text messages. You know the drill–or if you don’t, you should. The scammer claims to have a large sum of money he needs to get out of his country for some reason.

You, lucky person he picked at random and can somehow trust with a fortune, are asked to give up your banking details. The businessman, or prince or heiress, or whoever, just wants to wire the money into your account for a while and in exchange, you’ll get a big cut. 

Only if you fall for it, the scammer will just drain your bank account for as much money as he can get. Or he’ll come up with various taxes or fees that you have to wire to him or a third party in order to get the money out of his country. He’ll do it more than once till you get tired of paying and give up. Your bank account won’t see a fortune even temporarily and the money you sent will be gone forever.

Your BBB recently received a report from a woman in the Waco/Temple/Killeen area who got such a text message. The text message was from someone claiming to be “an executive out of Hong Kong” who “wanted to do some transaction with me entailing 18 million dollars, and because I’m not in Hong Kong, he wanted to launder money to me.”

Fortunately, she recognized the red flags of a scam and refused to take the bait. Because they place via text messaging, also known as Short Message Service (SMS), these scams are known as “smishing” scams. Other versions include requests to verify your information from someone pretending to be with your bank or other financial institution

You can take the following steps to protect yourself against the this scam and its variations.

  • Don’t reply! If you receive a letter, email or text from someone in another country asking you to send personal or banking information, do not reply! BBB suggests you immediately delete or throw away any such correspondence.
  • If you did, alert the authorities. If you have already responded, or if you know someone who has been caught up in this scheme, contact the U.S. Secret Service as soon as possible (phone: 202.406.5572 or e-mail419.fcd@usss.treas.gov).
  • Don’t fall for ‘big money’ claims. Ignore anyone who claims to be a foreign government official, heir or businessperson asking for your help in placing large sums of money in overseas bank accounts.
  • Don’t let strangers into your bank account. Beware of strangers who are eager to place unexpected, large amounts of money at your disposal, in exchange for your bank account number or other personal or financial info.
  • Beware of cashiers checks or money orders. These can look very “official” and still be counterfeit. When a stranger sends a check or money offer to purchase a product or service from you, consult with your bank about the time it will take to verify the check, and wait for the funds to clear.
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