How scammers target aid experts. Types of scams and case studies

By Daniil Filipenco

How scammers target aid experts. Types of scams and case studies

No industry, business, or sector escapes the attention of scammers. As everyday lives move on within the digital world, the increasing number of sophisticated scams has become a major problem for everyone.

The development sector is no exception. Scammers make use of the names of well-known and respected aid agencies or the names of individuals who are somehow linked to them to fool people and make them believe they are being addressed from a reputable source.

NGOs, development companies, and consultancies – none are immune from the scammers and anyone can fall victim. For example, people who work in developing countries are vulnerable to proposals that appear to be too tempting to pass up. Scammers take advantage of this by posing as a representative of a respectable donor.

Advanced fee fraud schemes

One of the most popular schemes used by criminals in the digital age is “advanced fee fraud”. While it doesn’t target development experts in particular, nevertheless, scammers have adopted certain techniques that mean the scheme can be used in the aid sector.

This scam type takes advantage of the ambitions of humans and companies and their faith in investing money for future gains. Even the most perceptive eye can be taken in due to the use of official-looking documents and what appear to be authentic letters from respectable institutions such as the World Bank or African Development Bank (AfDB).


Numerous fraudulent schemes are called “4-1-9” letters, named after the section of the Nigerian penal law that addresses this kind of fraud. As well as Nigeria, the World Bank also cites Sierra Leone and Côte d’Ivoire as being the countries of origin for these scams. By faking affiliations with prestigious organizations, scammers can create an illusion of validity that might be difficult to dispute.

“General Directors”

Scammers appear to favor taking advantage of the AfDB as a target and sending fictitious “General Directors” emails. These aim to deceive recipients into believing that they are entitled to or have inherited some money and they must leave their home country immediately to claim it. Such emails are another example of advance fee fraud in which the con artists continuously demand money from the recipient for processing the payment or to meet tax expenses.

Email Spoofing

Scammers often misuse the names of reputable organizations like the WB, UNDP, UNEP, AfDB or the Asian Development Bank (ADB) pretending to be sending messages on behalf of them although these organizations do issue warnings to inform the public about possible scams. For instance, the ADB specifies only official messages from domains ending in “” should be trusted.
However, one popular way to send misleading messages is email spoofing.

What is email spoofing?

This is a tactic to fool people into believing a message originated from somebody or an entity they recognize or trust. Such attacks involve the sender forging email headers that show the fraudulent sender’s address using an organization’s branding which is accepted at face value by most users. Users are unaware that the sender is fake unless they thoroughly examine the header.

For example, the Asian Development Bank warns its beneficiaries and partners that some of the messages claiming to be from the ADB or its affiliates using these addresses are fake:

  • @adb.or

Case studies on scamming that targets experts

To illustrate how scammers operate, consider two recent scams that targeted specialists. These scams raised doubts about the legitimacy of some of the offers associated with reputable institutions, such as Rehabilitation International and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Case 1: Questionable offer from Rehabilitation International (RI)

After receiving an email claiming to be from Rehabilitation International, one expert found themselves in the midst of a suspicious situation. The email aimed to verify personal information for funding through RI Global and DevelopmentAid.

Upon deeper inspection, the expert discovered that the sender’s information was unrelated to Rehabilitation International. This discrepancy immediately raised questions about the authenticity of the communication and its purpose.

The email addressed to the expert exhibited some telltale signs of it being a scam:

  • The use of a generic email address which does not align with the official communication channels of reputable companies.
  • A request for private information made without the recipient’s prior consent or involvement.
  • A noticeable lack of detail regarding the intended use and objective of the supposed funds.

Case 2: The UNEP employment scam

In a related incident, another expert received an email from someone claiming to be from the United Nations Environmental Programme – UNEP, inviting them to apply for a consultancy position.

However, during the job application process, there was an unusual request in the email for payment to cover training costs. This requirement indicated a clear attempt at deception and would be highly unusual for legitimate employment offers.

There were several telltale signs of a scam in the email sent to the expert:

  • The request for payment under the pretext of training expenses is not a practice employed by reputable firms in the hiring process.
  • The letter’s tone and context created a sense of urgency to trick the recipient into acting hastily.
  • The use of an email address that, upon closer examination, did not match the official UNEP communication methods, further undermined the credibility of the offer.

These two cases were shared by the DevelopmentAid Career Center. Experts who found themselves targeted by scammers contacted DevelopmentAid and received comprehensive guidance and assistance on further actions to avoid scammers.

DevelopmentAid members seeking clarification on any matter regarding a company or organization registered at DevelopmentAid can always get in touch with our representatives, including Career Advisors or customer support, by writing to us at:

At no point in the hiring process do international organizations impose fees on candidates. Moreover, they do not request personal bank checks, Western Union, or other types of money transfers.

Preventive measures: Vigilance is key

Here are a few measures to avoid falling victim to scammers.

If you receive an unusual request for money from an individual or a group purporting to be a member of an established organization, or if you have doubts about the organization’s genuine involvement in a particular project, you should NOT respond.

⚠️ To protect yourself from scams:

  • Disregard and mark as spam any emails that seem suspicious. Requests for urgent fund transfers made by email should always be regarded with caution.
  • Authenticate any correspondence by seeking official validation on the organization’s website and verifying the sender’s email domain.
  • Be cautious of unsolicited financial or job offers, especially those requiring payment in advance or personal information.
  • Never provide the sender with your bank account information, personal data, or money.
  • Avoid clicking on any links or opening any attachments in such emails.
  • Verify the organization’s logo, name, and domain – these can be misrepresented.
  • Report suspicious texts to your local law enforcement or the relevant authorities dealing with cybercrime.

Always check the name of a company you have never dealt with against the DevelopmentAid sanctioned organizations’ list.

The DevelopmentAid sanctioned organizations database contains over 1,300 blacklisted companies operating in international development, most of which have been sanctioned by donors. The list of blacklisted entities is updated weekly and serves as a “risk management” tool.

Occasionally, certain businesses face sanctions for failing to pay expert fees. As a result, members are advised to investigate the reasons behind the sanctions imposed on specific companies and to avoid doing business with those that are subject to sanctions.

Final word

Scammers’ strategies are constantly evolving along with the digital landscape. Our best defense is awareness and prompt, effective reactions. By fostering a culture of skepticism towards offers that seem too good to be true and diligently verifying the authenticity of every unexpected opportunity, experts can safeguard not just their resources but also their reputation.

DevelopmentAid members can always get in touch with Career Advisors or customer support, regarding any suspicious activity or a question regarding potential scammer schemes, by writing to us at: