Say “cheese” – you’ve been scammed!
OCTOBER 30, 2009

Consumers who have been approached by foreign contacts with an offer to work from home, should be forewarned. They might be victims of scams which have been doing the rounds in many other countries before hitting Malta during these past few weeks. These scams are disguised behind numerous pretences, mainly as offers for modelling work, photo session or advertising campaigns.

The MFSA has been informed that a number of consumers have approached their bank to encash travellers cheques (with an American Express logo) in euro, US dollar or sterling which they received in part payment for any of the above mentioned reasons. These travellers’ cheques are mostly in denomination of EUR500 and, for the untrained eye, look rather authentic - complete with apparent watermarks, holograms and security threads. However, these cheques are fraudulent and therefore useless – but by the time consumers find out, they might have already sent money to the fraudsters, which is where the scam lies.

Lately, consumers who have been targeted by these foreign fraudsters claim they have been contacted to appear in a photo session. These “would-be” models are sent a number of travellers’ cheques (often 5000 Euros or Pound Sterling), asked to deposit them into their own bank account and then transfer the money to a third party via a money transfer facility (which is usually not through a bank). The explanation is that the money is to cover expenses for the photo session, studio hire, etc.

The “model” is also told that she can keep a percentage (around 10 to 20 per cent) as her modelling fee. The travellers’ cheques would be worthless but the fraudsters hope that the transfer from the “model” has already been made by the time she finds out (which is usually a few days after the bank receives notification from abroad during the clearing process). It is near to impossible to retrieve any funds sent by such money transfer facilities once they are withdrawn.

The whole set-up is a variation of other scams, normally referred to as advance payment scams. The e-mails which are being sent by the fraudsters can be relatively easily spotted as a scam. Some of the give aways are

  • Poor style of writing, spelling and grammar;
  • Offer is too good to be true;
  • Pressure to conclude the matter immediatly;
  • Request for the targeted consumer not to discuss with other parties; and
  • Strange financial arrangements.

The MFSA is very concerned to note that many of the victims who have sent money to these fraudsters failed to ask some very elementary questions about the whole setup before parting with their money. For example, the most obvious questions that should have been asked were: “why are the foreign contacts sending me money and then asking me to send them back?” and “why are they paying me with travellers’ cheques”?

Consumers are, once again asked to remain vigilant by:

  1. not responding to such e-mails;
  2. not giving out any personal details;
  3. not sending CVs, scans of photo ID, driving licences or similar documents;
  4. not paying any money, even if you have already received a cheque.

The MFSA urges the public to be extremely cautious. In the meantime, local banks have made their branch staff aware of these scams who may provide guidance on request.

For more information contact the MFSA’s Consumer Complaints Manager for more information or clarification (Freephone: 80074924, MFSA: 21441155, email address: [email protected]).

Issued by the Consumer Complaints Unit - MFSA