Scammers have infiltrated chat rooms and dating sites, said Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Tuesday, and enticed victims in Africa, Asia, and Latin America to bogus Web sites posing as belonging to UNHCR or other refugee organizations.
"Unsuspecting victims are encouraged to apply to these sham resettlement programs by paying an administrative fee which ranges from around US$100 up to $1,000," said Pagonis in comments to reporters in Geneva. "People are sometimes offered a 'discount' if they can get another 5 to 15 people to join the program. Once the victim has paid the fee, the criminals disappear with their money."
The UNHCR never charges fees for resettlement information or assistance, and transplanting refugees to a third country -- as the scams insist is possible -- is done only rarely.
The UNHCR became aware of the scam problem earlier this year, and has been trying to close down scamming sites as they're found. "But as soon as one site is closed, others tend to pop up again somewhere else," Pagonis added.
"One of the most effective defenses we have is to inform the general public and potential victims that UNHCR never charges for resettlement."