By Attorney N. Jude Menes, FCIArb.
Menes Konsult/Europlaw Group

Our firm is dedicated to helping foreign companies and individuals become successful in Africa.  We believe that Africa’s development will be fast-tracked through successful business relations and resources from outside the continent.  Unfortunately, internet scams, often originating from Africa and/or perpetrated by Africans, remain one of the biggest stumbling blocks to fostering successful business relations between Africa and the world.  As a result, one of our core services is providing localized investigations to protect foreigners against scams.  Last year alone, we unmasked several scammers and successfully foiled attempts to defraud our clients.  In fact, we successfully made some scammers to refund some of the money they had already collected.

To be sure, internet scams are not exclusive to Africa and Africans.  We have encountered scammers from other continents including Europe, Asia, and the Americas.  In fact, anyone who believes that only Africans engage in internet scams is being naïve and could be setting himself up to becoming a victim of serious frauds by scammers from other continents.  When communicating with a new online contact, it is always wise to watch out for signs that you could be dealing with a scammer.  While there is no one factor that determines if your online contact is a scammer, the following are some of the telltale signs that have helped us to derail scammers and foil their fraudulent schemes:

So, what’s your email address again?
I am always wary (and you should be too) of people who claim to be with large established companies, but could only afford free email accounts like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo, etc.  It is okay of the person is using the free email account just on social media pending when they verify your own credibility.  However, once they start having serious business discussions with you, they should be able to provide their dedicated company email address.  If it becomes clear that they only have free email accounts, you should think twice about who they are.

Why are you volunteering information I have not asked for?
In face to face meetings, when someone wants to pull a wool over your eyes, they may attempt to talk too fast and too much.  Internet scammers are like that too.  They will usually bombard you with information and documents in an attempt to convince you that they are legitimate. Often, they do so in order to cloud your thoughts and prevent you from asking the right questions and seeking information that may expose their ulterior motives.  By doing so, they hope you will be overwhelmed by the supposed goodness of their proposal to the extent that you become greedy and lose your senses.

Hmm, doesn’t this sound too good to be true?
Remember the good old saying: “if it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true.”  This saying is still valid to this day.  For instance, most people know that you are usually required to undergo through long and involving due process in order to win a government contract, whether it is from Africa or any other continent. So, if someone who claims to be a government officer suddenly offers you a contract worth millions of dollars without really knowing you very well and requiring you to go through due process, you should be very wary because it is probably a scam.

Sir, what’s your ring tone?
For the most part, a ring tone will usually give you an idea of the location of the call’s receiver.  Oftentimes, scammers will give an internet phone number but have the calls forwarded to another number and country where they are actually located.  For instance, we have encountered instances where internet scammers from some parts of Africa often use USA phone numbers.  When you call the number and pay attention to the ring tone, you will be able to know that the call is being forwarded and that the ring tone is different from the normal USA ring tones.  Sometimes, all it takes is for you to be attentive to the ring tone.

Can I call you back?
There are internet scammers who will rarely answer the phone when you call them. Such scammers will usually tell you exactly when to call them or they will insist on calling you back.  They are simply afraid of being caught unawares when you call them out of the blue and without notice. Rather, they want to by ready with what to tell you or they want to go to a convenient location without background noises that may betray their location.  So, one way you can unmask the would-be internet scammer is by making unexpected calls to him.  If he always fails to pick the call or insists on calling you back or having you call back (e.g. in 30 minutes) because he is “busy”, then you should think twice.

Can I look up your website?
First of all, why should even think of dealing with someone who claims to be the CEO of a large established company who could not afford a website?  In this day and age, websites cost little or nothing.  Therefore, every company or serious business person should be able to afford a credible website.  If your internet contact does not have a website but wants to do millions of dollars’ worth of business with you, then you should beware.

However, you should know that clever internet scammers have been known to clone websites of legitimate companies and government entities.  Thus, they will often use a web address that is similar to the address of the legitimate company.  But when you enter the website address they gave you, they will redirect you to a website they control.  You may be able to protect yourself against clones by undertaking simple google search on your own.  All you have to do is to google the company’s name (or government agency) and you could find the legitimate web address which different from the one you were given by the would-be scammer.  In fact, we have used this method unmask a number of scammers.

Do you really have a PhD?
Most online scammers are actually not well educated. Rather, they will often send you copy and paste stuff they got from their fellow scammers.  Sometimes, what you need to expose a scammer is to keep asking them questions that will require intelligent answers and grammar.  Oftentimes, the more you engage them in discussions and pay attention to their grammar, the more you will begin to wonder if the guy who told you he is Dr. Walawla, the Honorable Minister for Education in Republic of Kalula, is actually educated himself.  In the end, the scammer will either start yelling at you in frustration or simply disappear.  Remember, if he doesn’t make grammatical sense, then he’s probably nonsense.

Yes, the guilty are still afraid
When I was in high school, I remember reading a James Hadley Chase novel titled “The Guilty are Afraid.”  Over the years, I have come to realize that indeed scammers will either fumble in their game or simply disappear in frustration if you boldly confront them face-on.  This strategy has often worked well for us against to several scammers we have encountered on LinkedIn. In one case, the guy simply disappeared when we straightforwardly confronted him and told him that we know he is a scammer and full of nonsense because his proposal is just too good to be true.

What’s your basic instinct?
Those who say that you should often follow your instincts are right.  One way to avoid being scammed in this internet age is to follow one’s gut-feeling and instincts.  If you have asked all the right questions but your instincts still tell you that “something seems off,” then we advise you to walk away and save yourself potential future troubles. The way we see it, walking away will not mean the end of the world or business opportunities for you.  If you are meant to find a good business opportunity on the internet, then it will eventually happen at the right time.  And at that time, your instincts will give you the right vibes.  On the other hand, just one internet scam has the potential to put you in a business hole you may never climb out of.

So, what’s next?
Despite the challenges, Africa has tremendous opportunities with profit-making and life-changing potentials.  A lot of foreigners simply do not understand how to do business in Africa and are, therefore, unable to distinguish the wheat from the chaff.  We are committed to your success by leveraging our background, expertise, experience, and resources to ensure the safety and security of your resources and investments in Africa.  If you are serious about successfully doing business in Africa, let us Look before you Leap.

Atty. N. Jude MenesMenes Konsult/Europlaw Group