Contact: Julie Willmot
(609) 278-7137

TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes and the Mercer County Office of Consumer Affairs joins the state Division of Consumer Affairs in warning residents to be wary if a stranger asks them to transfer funds from an overseas account with promises of a financial gain.

"This is just the latest in a scheme to rob unsuspecting people of their hard-earned money, and I urge people to heed the warning that if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is," said Hughes.

According to the state, more than 60 complaints from "advance fee" scam victims have been filed last year. The advance fee scam, sometimes called the Nigerian scam, involves a con artist who typically claims to be a foreign government official or former official who needs assistance in transferring funds to the United States. The con artist asks that the person being contacted provide their bank account information and also advance their own money to help facilitate the transfer of funds. In return, the con artist promises a large payment to compensate the person for their efforts.

Victims may receive official looking documents from the scam artist to gain trust. When the victim agrees to assist, the scam artist may send an authentic-looking cashiers' check written for more than the agreed-upon compensation. The victim is instructed to deposit the cashier's check in their personal account and immediately withdraw the money in excess of their compensation payment. The victim then wires these excess funds to the scam artist.

Several days or weeks later, the bank notifies the victim that the cashier's check is fake. The consumer is expected to cover the funds they unwittingly "returned" to the scam artist. A variation of the scheme includes a bogus job offer where the "recruiter" asks the victim to provide their social security number and provides a cashier's check as an advance against the first paycheck. Ultimately, any funds provided to the con artist are lost and no transfer of funds or promised payment occurs.

Consumers should never give bank account and other personal information to unknown callers or in response to an email, the state warns.

Consumers who receive advance fee fraud emails, but have not suffered a money loss, are best served by adding the sender to their email "block" list and forwarding the emails to their Internet Service Provider. Consumers who have lost money or have mistakenly given personal account information to the scammer can contact the Mercer County Division of Consumer Affairs at (609) 989-6671. The County can also furnish a variety of informational materials from the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs to assist residents in protecting themselves. The N.J. Division of Consumer Affairs can be reached at 1-800-242-5846or online at www.njconsumeraffairs.gov