How to Avoid Cameroonian Scams
Frauds Originating From Cameroon
The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon has observed a dramatic increase in fraud in recent years targeting foreigners. These fraudulent schemes come in many varieties, ranging from simple pleas for donations to fictitious charities to elaborate fraudulent invoices on corporate or governmental letterhead. These scams can arrive in the form of unsolicited faxes, e-mails, or classified ads posted online. Fraud poses the risk of both financial loss and personal danger to their victims. The U.S. Embassy hopes this message will help alert the public to such scams in Cameroon. Scams are often initiated by credit card use, through telephone calls, from use of Internet cafes in Cameroon, and from unsolicited faxes, letters, and e-mails. No one should provide personal or financial information to unknown parties by e-mail or via Cameroonian telephone lines. Likewise, the Embassy strongly cautions Americans against wiring funds to individuals not known to you personally for goods or services not yet performed or delivered. You may contact the Embassy’s commercial section or consular section before agreeing to send money to Cameroon for any reason.
Some of the most popular scams involve the adoption of children or animals over the internet. The perpetrators of child adoption fraud often claim to be indigent parents unable to care for a child or members of the clergy working at a Cameroonian orphanage seeking a good home for a child. Other versions of this fraud involve wildlife, including birds (often parrots), dogs (Yorkshire terriers and bulldog puppies are frequently offered), and monkeys. The scammers will begin a relationship with the victim by offering the fictitious child or animal for free, asking the victim to pay only a small amount to cover the cost of shipping. This will be followed by a never-ending string of additional requests, this time for more money due to ‘unforeseen expenses’, such as court costs, airport fees, customs duties, and medical costs. The scammers will claim that the fictitious baby or animal will be abandoned at the airport unless they are unable to pay a non-existent fee, and the victim will be threatened with the loss of thousands of dollars. Some of these scams falsely claim that volunteers from the U.S. Peace Corps are involved in these sales.
Americans should be very cautious about sending money or traveling to Cameroon to adopt a child from an orphanage they have only heard about through e-mails. The competent authorities for inter-country adoption are the Ministry of Social Affairs and the High Court (Tribunal de Grande Instance) that has jurisdiction over the place of residence of the child to be adopted. Cameroon does not have adoption agencies. In general, any orphanage may release an orphan for adoption. However, in order to help protect themselves and the children from the possibility of fraud or other serious problems, prospective adoptive parents are advised to consider first the list of accredited orphanages available at the Ministry of Social Affairs. Should prospective adoptive parents wish to hire a Cameroonian attorney to assist with the adoption, they can obtain a list of attorneys from the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé.
A new twist in the conventional e-mail adoption scam has appeared recently, and this one occurs after the victim discovers that he or she has been fooled by a scam. Once the victim suspects fraud and breaks off communications with the scammers, a new e-mail message will arrive claiming to be from the Cameroonian FBI or some such police agency. These fictitious policemen will offer to recover the victim’s lost money. The scammers will then ask for a “refundable” fee to open the investigation or court files. No such police agency exists in Cameroon.
The U.S. Embassy notes there are strict legal regulations surrounding endangered species and the importation of any wildlife into the United States. Any attempt to purchase wildlife through the internet should be avoided.
Many business scams work on the false premise that the government has dictated all companies wishing to do business in Cameroon must be registered in Cameroon. The scammer will claim to be a government official who can guarantee that a contract will be given to the intended victim’s company. For their work, this fictitious government official will ask for a small commission, to come from the money the Cameroon government will pay for the goods. The victim is asked to add one dollar to the value of the goods sold, which will pay for the fictitious government official’s commission, and the seller will not lose money in the transaction. However, in order to get the large contract, the victim will have to register their company in Cameroon, which will satisfy the false legal requirement. The fictitious government official will introduce the victim to an attorney who will help the victim navigate through the business registration process. When the victim makes contact with this purported attorney (likely to be the same person as the “government official”), the victim will be given instructions regarding the registration process. While the various attorney, government, bank, document, and office fees may seem reasonable given the large profit promised, the victim will ultimately have paid thousands of dollars for a transaction that never takes place.
Another recently recorded scam involves individuals claiming to possess large quantities of vegetable oils (soybean, cotton, or palm) to supply raw materials for the biofuels industry. The scammer usually sends out a sales agreement asking the victim to sign and provide bank details, including an irrevocable LC (Letter of Credit). He will also claim to possess samples ready to be shipped to the victim, a well-calculated ploy to encourage the victim to start sending money, usually in small amounts but gradually increasing. In fact, Cameroon does not possess export production capacity for any such products. Local production is insufficient to meet domestic demand and the international market price for these vegetable oils is far lower than the domestic market prices – hence there is no economic incentive to export. In most business scams, transactions are requested to be carried out via Western Union or Moneygram rather than through reputable banks.