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Confidential business relationship? Beware of scams

November 17, 2010
By Steve Bernas, President and CEO

Better Business Bureau Chicago


The BBB would like to alert consumers and the business community of an increase of unsolicited and fraudulent letters being sent via postal mail, e-mail and fax. The solicitations generally are letters that may look formal, sound serious in tone, and appear lucrative in what they offer.  

Two of such fraudulent letters consist of requests for a "Confidential Business Relationship" and what is dubbed the "next of kin" scenario. The letters open with the alleged writer introducing himself or herself as either a professional—a medical doctor, somebody serving in the military, or a foreign delegate, high official—or a politician. After a formal introduction, the writer will claim that he or she possesses a very large sum of money, but for whatever reason must transfer it to a different account, preferably to one in the United States. Some of the reasons being provided for this offer include high international taxes, civil or banking disputes, or unstable political situations which allegedly make it problematic for the sender to access his accounts.


A confidential business relationship is then proposed, with the aim of the sender to persuade the recipient to open up a bank account, become a "silent partner" and accept the funds as the sole beneficiary of the money. After receiving the alleged funds, via checks, money order, etc, the sender claims that the recipient will get a certain cut of the funds, usually anywhere 8 percent to 15 percent, and after keeping his share, he or she must forward the rest of the funds to an undisclosed third party.  

Occasionally, the request will also ask that the recipient confidentially assume the role of "next of kin" or some specific identity, allegedly in order to secure the access and transfer of money. Some versions of this scenario include being asked to identify yourself as the next of kin of somebody who allegedly died in a foreign country and left behind a lot of money, or to obtain the funds from a stranger who was either widowed or is terminally ill and wants to pass on his or her funds to a trusted individual.


What’s the story with these offers and the letters behind them? They’re fraudulent. The originators of the letters most likely are from foreign countries, where they send out fake letters en masse, hoping somebody will read one and consider the "confidential business relationship" the real deal. What the offers are, however, are scam operations designed to dupe the recipients into opening accounts, accepting payment and depositing it under their name, and without knowing that the payments were fake –be it fraudulent checks with no money behind them- forward "the rest of the money" to a third party.  

"The rest of the money" is the actual money that the victim has in his or her account, and in reality winds up sending it and being robbed of whatever is in his or her account to start with. To make matters worse, the victim’s financial institution will find out within days that the deposited check is fake and will hold the victim of the scam responsible for check fraud. 


The BBB advises that consumers and businesses do not take these letters seriously and destroy them upon receipt, regardless who they are addressed to and how good-intentioned they sound. Scam artists can easily purchase information with peoples’ names and addresses, so it doesn’t mean much if they happen to get the recipient’s name and address correctly. To notify the BBB about the scam, please send a copy of it to, & then shred it and forget it.