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How to Avoid Scams in Brazil – The Guide

Need help to know if you are being scammed? We can help.

Brazil is a wonderful country. We don’t need to tell you that. However, Brazil also has some downsides, just like anywhere else. A major one is an industry of scammers targeting foreign citizens remotely through computers, cell phones, and technology. In terms of losses, it is probable that the so-called online scams have surpassed by far the old in-person scams.

Money in Brazil does not come as easily as it comes in developed nations. Consequently, the bad apples in Brazil will prefer targeting a foreign national over another Brazilian.

Two main reasons for scams targeting foreign nationals in Brazil are:

  1. The perception that foreign nationals have a much higher discretionary income
  2.  The fact that foreign nationals do not know well the life dynamics in Brazil making them easier  to deceive

9 Major Types of Scams in Brazil Today

Some of the main types of scams in Brazil targeting foreign nationals today are:

1. The Girfriend
2. The Loan
3. The Commodity
4. The Real Estate
5. The Gold Bars
6. The Inheritance
7. The Bonds
8. The Bank Swift Guarantee
9. In-Person Scams

Let us review the main traits of each of these 9 scams.

1. The Brazilian Girlfriend Scam

There are no more “mail brides” as mail has become a thing of the past. However, this old scam has been revamped as “internet girlfriends”.  Women (or men pretending to be women) will induce men in countries such as the US and other developed nations to start a “romantic relationship” over the internet.

The Brazilian girlfriend or boyfriend will eventually share a sad story with the victim. In this sad story, lack of money will be the main reason for the ordeal. The good-intentioned foreign national will offer himself (or herself) to lend money to the Brazilian. This is the turning point for the scam. After the victim makes the first money transfer, a pattern of asking for money (either directly or through subterfuge) will quickly take place.

After several months of sending money to the scammer, the victim will try to meet the scammer in person. The scammer will decline and postpone such encounters for as long as possible. Eventually (and hopefully), the victim will realize that there is no real relationship and, at this point, the victim may have wasted dozens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Not to mention the trauma that falling into such a scam may cause.

Main take: if a Brazilian is really interested in you as a romantic partner, she/he will not be asking or even accepting money from you often. 

2. The Loan Scam

In this scam, a Brazilian firm offers to lend a large amount to the victim. The Brazilian firm presents its website, certificates, and even a phone number for “another customer” in the US who has successfully secured a large loan through its service.

In reality, there is no Brazilian firm, no customer, and no loan. A well-developed website, a good conversation, scammers pretending to be past customers, and plain psychology are used by the gang of scammers to convince the victim to make several substantial payments through bank transfers. They will ask for little money to hook the victim and increase the amounts asked over time. The reasons for these payments include but are not limited to: opening the account, reviewing the loan, approving the loan, having an attorney seal the papers, paying for the costs of remitting the funds to the US (or another country), troubleshooting unexpected problems, and the most common one: “this is the last thing you need to pay before we transfer the funds to your account”!

Main take: does it really make sense for a person or a company from a developed nation to seek loans in Brazil?

3. The Commodity Scam

Brazil is a superpower when it comes to commodities. Some of the commodities highly sought by foreigners in Brazil are:

  • Agricultural products such as coffee, corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, and lumber.
  • Livestock and meat such as live cattle, beef, pork bellies, chicken, and milk.
  • Metals such as iron ore.

Traders from countries badly in need of such commodities will skip common sense checks and pay large amounts as a deposit for a shipment that never comes. Signs of this type of scam will include: 

  • payments to payees outside of Brazil
  • representatives who can get you a better price or access to sellers who have already sold all their production

Main take: commodities are sold many months ahead of the actual production. Do not pursue trade leads from boards and secondary channels, which are plagued by scammers.

4. The Real Estate Scam

Buying real estate in Brazil is complex and should not be taken lightly. If you are a foreign national, retaining a lawyer helps keep away scammers and bad deals. Being cheap and skipping on retaining a lawyer may result in losing your shirt. Short in money? Do not buy real estate in the first place!

Two major scams related to real estate in Brazil:

(a) sale of possession and rights to land (instead of the actual legal title). In this scam, the scammer will present titles that may look legit to the uneducated foreign national, who end up paying for documents that have no value.

(b) sale of shares in a cocoa plantation or the Amazon Rainforest. Although foreign nationals can purchase virtually any urban property in Brazil (with a few exceptions), there are many restrictions when it comes to rural land. Scammers will sell “shares” of plantations or large tracts of land through fictitious contracts with zero legal value in Brazil. 

Main take: don’t rely on real estate sellers. Get reputable legal help before purchasing something high-value, such as real estate.

5. The Brazilian Gold Bars

Scammers will convince the victims that gold bars are freely traded in Brazil. The scam will usually involve someone too old, too young, or too busy to sell the gold bars themselves. The scammer will convince the person abroad to pay just some nominal fee to have the gold bars released and shipped to the victim.

Main take: gold bars are not freely traded in Brazil. They stay in financial institutions such as banks and custodial financial firms. Nobody keeps gold bars in a safe.

6. The Brazilian Inheritance

There are different variations of this scam. One of them starts with a scammer woman asking the victim (usually a male) to help sort out an inheritance she received in Brazil. Sorting out the inheritance will involve the participation of other scammers who will pretend to be attorneys, accountants, etc. The gang of scammers will direct the victim to pay several fees for the inheritance to be released. The victim is promised repayment of all fees paid plus some. Some of the victims become romantically involved with one of the scammers (remotely, of course) and will realize the scam only after losing dozens of thousands of dollars.

Main take: do not volunteer to solve or fund someone else’s inheritance probate. This should be handled by professionals in Brazil. As long as there is some worth in the inheritance, the Brazilian party should be able to retain professional help on a contingency basis.

7. The Brazilian Bonds

Most of these scams will involve really old bonds issued decades ago. The scammer will show some fake evidence of the bonds’ legitimacy and estimate how much they would be worth today. The victim will be asked to send funds so the bonds may go through some process in order to be converted into money. The alleged process to convert the bonds into money may involve appraisal, authentication, hiring an attorney or another professional, etc.

Main take: if Brazilians cannot solve a problem such as validating and selling bonds locally in Brazil, why would you be able to do so from thousands of miles away?

8. The Brazilian Swift Guarantee / Trade Papers

In some countries, there is a specific type of swift bank code associated with the guarantee of trade operations. Scammers may forge papers representing such guarantee to convince foreign parties to transfer money or ship goods to Brazil. In a variant of this scam, the victim will receive trade papers instead of the Swift guarantee.

Main take: No Brazilian bank works with swift guarantees and trade papers should be verified with actual banks instead of a third party.

9. In-person Scams

These are the old type scams where the scammer will approach a foreign citizen in public and use some deceptive story to steal money or things of value, or to convince the victim to give money to them. See here some of these popular in-person scams in Brazil

Main take: stay alert and be aware of the street environment. If followed, go into a store, bank, or another private tended facility. 

The International Travel section of the US Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs brings some must-read information if you are traveling to Brazil for the first time.