The advent of the internet and the rise of social media has made communication across countries much easier. But it has also enabled a rise in scams perpetrated across national borders that can cost unwitting or confused consumers thousands of dollars.
Known as cross-border fraud, this phenomenon takes a number of forms. The end result, however, is that American citizens or permanent residents are defrauded out of money, assets, or goods in exchange for false promises or claims. Under federal law, cross-border fraud can be punished on its own and in conjunction with other serious offenses. In many cases, the punishments include long jail terms and substantial fines.
As public awareness of cross-border scams increased during the middle of the last decade, concerns rose that senior citizens and other vulnerable individuals were being preyed upon by cross-border scammers. In the most serious cases, widows and widowers lost their entire life savings to scammers. As a result, the federal government repeatedly took action to address this problem and criminalize the activities of those involved in cross-border scams.
In 2006, Congress passed – and President George W. Bush signed – the Safe Web Act. This federal legislation is designed to give federal authorities, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Department of Justice broad powers to investigate and charge people who have perpetrated cross-border scams.
To give the law even more teeth, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed in 2012 on a reauthorization of the Safe Web Act. This amendments increased penalties for offenders, gave investigators even broader powers to search and seize information related to scams, and enhanced the prospects that individuals who live in foreign countries can be extradited to the United States to face charges for their role in cross-border scams.
A few examples of the type of fraud that can be perpetrated by foreign nationals on Americans are instructive. Advance fee fraud, originally known as “Nigerian money fraud” schemes, involve a foreign scammer promising to send money or goods to an American after they first make a smaller payment to the scammer. After the American sends the money, the foreign scammer is never heard from again.
Another type of scam, which frequently is used to prey on lonely widows or widowers, is known as a romance scam. In these cases, a foreign national may adopt a false identity to meet American seniors on the internet and engage them in what the American believes to be a sincere love affair. The scammer will then ask the American to send money or goods, and may repeat this request several times. However, they will ultimately break off the “romantic” relationship after receiving a number of gifts or a substantial amount of money.
Finally, another type of scam involves “work from home” schemes or reshipping fraud. In these cases, Americans are induced to package and ship goods they receive in the mail – or perform other mundane tasks – that in fact are part of a large criminal enterprise that may be transacting in stolen goods or theft by unlawful financial transactions.
Public outrage at these scams has led investigators and prosecutors to seek strong penalties for scammers. In addition to charges relating to fraud, scammers can be charged with computer and internet crimes, mail or wire fraud, identity theft, and a plethora of other offenses.
While the maximum sentence for each of these charges varies, it is not uncommon for judges to impose sentences of as much as 30 years imprisonment per count. In addition, individuals convicted of these crimes face millions of dollars in fines and restitution.
If you or a loved one are facing an investigation for cross-border fraud, it is imperative that you contact a competent, experience criminal defense attorney today. Cases of cross-border fraud are very complex and typically involve lengthy investigations. Promptly hiring a qualified attorney is the best way for you to secure your legal rights.
If you reside abroad, an experienced criminal lawyer – especially one versed in cross-border cases – may be able to assist you in preventing your extradition to the United States. They can also work with prosecutors to reach a plea agreement and, if necessary, present a strong defense before a judge and jury.