Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Top Diplomatic Pooch of All?

Posted: 00:08 EST

 

Several years ago, two Alsatian guard dogs owned by the Russian Embassy in the UK, were reportedly accused of savaging sheep in rural Kent. The dogs claimed diplomatic immunity to stave off farmers who want them destroyed according to the Independent.  In 2013, Australian Bennett Miller used 36 wiener dogs and their volunteer owners to create a replica of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a performance art installation. See more here. So we had dogs that invoked diplomatic immunity, and dogs that were art muses!

In 2012, the pooches and all U.S. diplomatic pets were at the center of a very public campaign against United Airlines for its pet travel policy. (See here, here and here). That’s probably when the pets moved over to YouTube, FB and the blogs (also see The Pets of the US Foreign Service). A related trend — these days, we’ve got diplomatic pooches with varying degrees of official presence, from an occasional snapshot or two to a more persistent online presence. Here are few high ranking pooches:

 

SkipJack Armbruster, U.S. Embassy Marshall Islands

dogs_armbruster

Ambassador Thomas Armbruster and SkipJack enjoying their new ride in Majuro (Photo from US Embassy Majuro/FB)

Bernie Mitchell, U.S. Embassy Burma

DOGS_Burma

A thank you note from Ambassador Mitchell, Min, and Bernie to the people of Myanmar for their warm hospitality in 2014.

Deckard Oreck, U.S. Embassy Finland

Ambassador Bruce Oreck’s dog, Deckard, is named after — you guess it — Rick Deckard, the protagonist of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Blade Runner to Hollywood). Apologies, we don’t have the text for this interview.

DOGS_Finland_Deckard

Deckard Oreck (Photo from US Embassy Finland)

Hapa Berry, U.S. Embassy Australia

 

 Fenway Hackett, U.S. Embassy The Vatican

 

Not all diplomatic pooches are created equal when it comes to their online presence, of course.  We’ve searched for the top dogs on social media and came up with the following:

Colt Wilczynski aka @diplomat_dog

Ambodog of Artur Wilczynski @Arturmaks, Canada’s Ambassador to Norway

“A dog excited to be going on posting to Norway with his two daddies.” Although this labrador retriever has a small number of followers on Twitter as of this writing, he has lots of pics and is marvelously entertaining. How can you not love a pooch who writes, “As a Canadian diplomat, I don’t think I’m supposed to enjoy tonight’s episode of “? Or “I don’t want to get up. It’s too dark! And what does daddy mean- “Get used to it!”?

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Benjamin F. Kerry aka  @DiploMutt

(Secretary John F. Kerry’s best friend in WashDC)

In November 2013, Secretary Kerry flew to Maine to pick up his new yellow Labrador puppy, Ben from Frances Plessner of Puddleduck Boarding Kennel who spent two months training the dog. According to the Boston Globe, Ben is named in honor of Ben Franklin, also known as the “Father of the American Foreign Service.” (Also see Secretary Kerry Gets a New Dog, Now a State Dept. Dog is Tweeting, Who Needs the NSA?) Ben, whose Twitter handle says @Diplomutt has 1,943 followers but is not terribly social online. He has only tweeted four times, and followed only six people, all State Department folks.  He does not appear to entertain request for retweets even for a good cause.

 

 

If you’re looking at @Diplomutt to come to the rescue after a hashtag diplomacy debacle, you’re out of luck.  It looks like Ben F. Kerry is on a very, very short leash with no other larger purpose than being the Secretary of State’s most devoted friend and most reserved sidekick in Washington, D.C.

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Grigsby Lippert aka @GrigsbyBasset

(Ambodog of Mark Lippert @mwlippert, the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea)

This Basset Hound is an upcoming star among diplomatic pooches. Although he only has over 500 followers, @GrigsbyBasset has tweeted over twenty times more than the more popular top dog from Foggy Bottom. He tweets lots of pictures and even made it to the pages of the Wall Street Journal:

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Scruffy Nellie aka @DiplomaticDog
(@GregQuinnFCO FCO High Commissioner designate to Guyana)

Our most favorite pooch among the lot is Scruffy Nellie, a feisty little terrier found on the street of Astana, Kazakhstan by a British diplomatic family. Her manservant is @GregQuinn, now the FCO High Commissioner designate to Guyana.  Nellie has her own blog at Diplomatic Dog, followed by over 4200 subscribers. You may subscribe to follow her blog here and get your “regular sniffs.”  She is on Facebook with regular updates on “hairy pudding adventures and occasional words of scruffy wisdom.” She’s also on Twitter (@DiplomaticDog) with 2,797 followers.

Here she is when she was newly found:

Here she is in February 2014:

 

Scruffy Nellie, herself, is available for interviews. See the one she did here with BlogExpat.com.  By the way, when her manservant gave an interview on behalf of the British Embassy in Astana (@UKinKZ with 2,196 followers),  @DiplomaticDog was there to retweet, and amplify.

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@GregQuinnFCO confirmed to us that Scruffy Nellie is moving with him to Guyana this month and her family have arrived safely in Guyana. We’re looking forward to her Caribbean adventure; maybe she’ll get to see Kaieteur Falls!

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US Embassy Jordan Warns of a Potential Threat Against High-End Malls in Amman

Posted: 15:04 PST

 

On February 25, the U.S. Embassy in Amman issued a message to U.S. citizens in Jordan concerning a potential threat against high-end malls in the capital city:

The U.S. Embassy has received information of a potential threat against high-end malls in Amman.  The threat is judged to be credible, although the possible timeframe and type of threat are unknown.  The Government of Jordan has taken steps to increase security at these locations.  U.S. Embassy employees and family members have been instructed to avoid these locations as a precaution in the coming days, and private U.S. citizens are advised to do the same.

Jordan Map via CIA World Factbook

Jordan Map via CIA World Factbook

Extremist groups have repeatedly expressed interest in attacking so-called soft targets, such as malls and restaurants, in Jordan. U.S. citizens should expect to see an increased security presence at such establishments throughout Jordan, and especially in Amman.  We encourage U.S. citizens to cooperate with all vehicle and personal searches by police and private security.  U.S. citizens residing in or visiting Jordan should remain vigilant regarding their personal security and alert to local security developments.

The 2014 Crime and Safety Report issued by Diplomatic Security notes that the threat of terrorism remains a major concern as regional and transnational terrorist groups, as well as local extremists, have demonstrated the willingness and ability to mount attacks.

In late September 2012, the General Intelligence Department uncovered and foiled a major terrorist plot that targeted several Amman shopping centers and cafes, known to be frequented by diplomats and Westerners, and the U.S. Embassy. The highly sophisticated plot, orchestrated by members of al-Qai’da in Iraq (AQI) who had operated in Syria, was designed to take place in several phases — first targeting commercial locations to draw the attention of security forces and culminating in a complex attack on the Embassy involving vehicle borne explosive devices, suicide bombers, and mortars. The plot was disrupted prior to the group moving to the operational phase. Jordanian authorities arrested all 11 members (all Jordanian citizens) believed to be involved in the plot.

AQI has a storied past in Jordan, to include claiming responsibility for the November 2005 bombings of three international hotels in Amman that killed 60 people and the October 2002 assassination of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley.
[…]
In August 2010, a roadside IED detonated near the passing vehicle of three State Department contractors in Sahab. The attack caused minor damage to the vehicle but resulted in no injuries.

The report also notes that due to cross border security concerns as a result of the Syrian civil war, the U.S. Embassy has issued a travel policy for all personnel under Chief of Mission authority, mandating specific restrictions and requirements for official travel to the Jordanian/Syrian border and locations in close proximity to the border, including the Za’atri refugee camp. Travel to these locations by Embassy personnel must be conducted in armored vehicles equipped with RSO monitored tracking devices. Additionally, prior to travel commencing, the Regional Security Office routinely consults with the Jordanian PSD to determine the suitability of the journey and, if necessary, to arrange for additional security measures.

 

Related item:

Jordan 2014 Crime and Safety Report

 

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State Dept Issues Travel Warnings For Algeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia; Warns of “Imminent Attacks” in Kabul

Posted: 11:17 EST

 

On February 24, the State Department issued Travel Warnings for Algeria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia:

Algeria Travel Warning:

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens who travel to Algeria to evaluate carefully the risks posed to their personal safety. There is a high threat of terrorism and kidnappings in Algeria, as noted in the Department of State’s latest Worldwide Caution. Although the major cities are heavily policed, attacks are still possible. The majority of terrorist attacks, including bombings, false roadblocks, kidnappings, and ambushes occur in the mountainous areas to the east of Algiers (Kabylie region and eastern wilayas) and in the expansive Saharan desert regions of the south and southeast. In September, the ISIL-affiliated Jund al-Khalifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate) abducted and beheaded a French citizen, in the Kabylie region.
[…]
The U.S. government considers the potential threat to U.S. Embassy personnel assigned to Algiers sufficiently serious to require them to live and work under security restrictions. The U.S. Department of State permits U.S. diplomats in Algeria to be accompanied only by adult family members, and children under age 12. Embassy travel restrictions limit and occasionally prevent the movement of U.S. Embassy officials and the provision of consular services in certain areas of the country. Likewise, the Government of Algeria requires U.S. Embassy personnel to seek permission to travel outside the wilaya of Algiers and provides police escorts. Travel to the military zone established around the Hassi Messaoud oil center requires Government of Algeria authorization.

state.gov/nea map

state.gov/nea map

Pakistan Travel Warning:

The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad and the U.S. Consulate General in Karachi continue to provide consular services for all U.S. citizens in Pakistan. The U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar no longer offers consular services and the U.S. Consulate General in Lahore remains temporarily closed for public services.
[…]
The presence of several foreign and indigenous terrorist groups poses a danger to U.S. citizens throughout Pakistan. Across the country, terrorist attacks frequently occur against civilian, government, and foreign targets.
[…]
U.S. government personnel travel within Pakistan is often restricted based on security or other reasons. Movements by U.S. government personnel assigned to the Consulates General are severely restricted, and consulate staff cannot drive personally-owned vehicles. Embassy staff is permitted at times to drive personally-owned vehicles in the greater Islamabad area.

U.S. officials in Islamabad are instructed to limit the frequency of travel and minimize the duration of trips to public markets, restaurants, and other locations. Official visitors are not authorized to stay overnight in local hotels. Depending on ongoing security assessments, the U.S. Mission sometimes places areas such as hotels, markets, and restaurants off-limits to official personnel. U.S. officials are not authorized to use public transportation.

Saudi Arabia Travel Warning:

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia. There have been recent attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates, an attack on Shi’ite Muslims outside a community center in the Eastern Province on November 3, 2014, and continuing reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners in the Kingdom.
[…]
Security threats are increasing and terrorist groups, some affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests. Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom.

On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). The U.S. Embassy has instructed U.S. government personnel and their families to avoid all travel to Al Hasa Governorate, and advises all U.S. citizens to do the same. On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

In related news — yesterday, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul also issued an Emergency Message concerning threats to American citizens in what is still a war zone.

“As of late February 2015, militants planned to conduct multiple imminent attacks against an unspecified target or targets in Kabul City, Afghanistan. There was no further information regarding the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is the first overseas destination of the new defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter. According to the NYT, he arrived in Afghanistan over the weekend and opened up the possibility of “slowing the withdrawal of the last American troops in the country to help keep the Taliban at bay.”  Most of the remaining troops in the country are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of 2016.

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Photo of the Day: Amb. Bell With Team USA at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match

Posted: 00:54 EST

 

Via US Embassy Budapest:

Ambassador Colleen Bell at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match. See related story over at the USA Water Polo website.

US Embassy Hungary| Amb Bell and US team 2015

Dr. Dénes Kemény of the Hungarian Water Polo Federation (http://ow.ly/J3r6T), invited Ambassador Colleen Bell to be his guest during last night’s match between the U.S. and Hungary at the 2015 Volvo Cup. The American team (http://ow.ly/J3rbu) lost to their Hungarian hosts, but they played a great game according to the US Embassy! Photo by US Embassy Budapest/FB

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US Embassy Tunis September 2012 Attackers Get Prison Terms of Two to Four Years

Posted: 02:12 EST

 

On February 18, France 24 reported that Tunisia’s appeals court sentenced 20 men convicted of participating in a 2012 attack on the US embassy to prison terms after an initial ruling was deemed too lenient.

In May 2013, all 20 men were all given two-year suspended sentences for ransacking the diplomatic mission, as well as the American school, alongside hundreds of protesters enraged at an online US-made film trailer they deemed critical of Islam.

Read more:

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The State Department was asked about the verdicts and here is its official response:

“The verdicts issued by the Appellate Court reflect a serious response to the September 2012 attack on U.S. Embassy Tunis. That said, we remain disappointed that justice in this case has been delayed so long and remains incomplete with several key suspects still at large. We hope that all those responsible for the attack on the U.S. Embassy and the American Cooperative School of Tunis will be brought to justice without further delay.”

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USCG Hong Kong Celebrates the New Lunar Year of the Sheep

Posted: 17:55 PST

In celebration of this year’s Lunar New Year, the folks at the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau sent their Consul General Clifford A. Hart, Jr. to learn the traditional Chinese art of paper tearing with master artist Lee Sing-man. A sheep with sunglasses came along. For USCG HK’s lunar greeting videos from prior years, click here and here.

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

 

Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay

 Posted: 15:15 EST

 

No, the world is not getting less dangerous but according to our sources, the State Department is eyeing changes in danger pay that could result in the loss of danger pay for a number of posts worldwide.

A group inside the State Department called the Danger Pay Working Group reportedly noted that the current practice of awarding Danger Pay has “veered from the original legislative language” which narrowly awards the additional compensation for a few extreme circumstances such as active civil unrest and war. Under the proposed changes, the definition of Danger Pay would reportedly revert to — you guess it, “the original legislative language”  which would result in a probable loss of Danger Pay for a number of posts worldwide.

The State Department is also revising its Hardship Differential Pay. The idea appears to involve moving some of the factors which previously resulted in Danger Pay into the Hardship calculation.  The number crunchers estimate that this may not result in equivalent levels of pay but apparently, the hope is “to compensate employees to some degree for these factors.”

Uh-oh!

Let’s back up a bit here — the Danger Pay allowance is the additional compensation of up to 35 percent over basic compensation granted to employees (Section 031 and 040i) for service at designated danger pay posts, pursuant to Section 5928, Title 5, United States Code (Section 2311, Foreign Service Act of 1980).

Here is the full language of 5 U.S. Code § 5928 (via Cornell Law)

An employee serving in a foreign area may be granted a danger pay allowance on the basis of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions which threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well-being of the employee. A danger pay allowance may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee, except that if an employee is granted an additional differential under section 5925 (b) of this title with respect to an assignment, the sum of that additional differential and any danger pay allowance granted to the employee with respect to that assignment may not exceed 35 percent of the basic pay of the employee. The presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section. In each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of the action taken and the circumstances justifying it.  [Section effective Feb. 15, 1981, except as otherwise provided, see section 2403 of Pub. L. 96–465, set out as a note under section 3901 of Title 22, Foreign Relations and Intercourse].

In 1983—Pub. L. 98–164 inserted provision that presence of nonessential personnel or dependents shall not preclude payment of an allowance under this section, and that each instance where an allowance under this section is initiated or terminated, the Secretary of State shall inform the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate of action taken and circumstances justifying it.

In 1984 — Pub. L. 98–533, title III, § 304,Oct. 19, 1984, 98 Stat. 2711, provided that: “In recognition of the current epidemic of worldwide terrorist activity and the courage and sacrifice of employees of United States agencies overseas, civilian as well as military, it is the sense of Congress that the provisions of section 5928 of title 5, United States Code, relating to the payment of danger pay allowance, should be more extensively utilized at United States missions abroad.”

We note that specific provision added in 1983 but it appears that in 2005, the State Department amended the Foreign Affairs Manual (3 FAM 3275-pdf) to say this:

Danger pay may be authorized at posts where civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of employees. It will normally be granted at posts where the evacuation of family members and/or nonessential personnel has been authorized or ordered, or at posts at which family members are not permitted.

The Global Terrorism Database indicates that there were 3,421 terrorist incidents in 1984, the year when Congress recognized that danger pay allowance should be more extensively utilized at U.S. missions overseas. The same database indicates that there were 11,952 terrorist incidents in 2013. Hard to argue that the world has become less dangerous in the intervening years.

Below is a list of posts with danger pay based on the latest data from the State Department or see snapshot here:

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015 (click on image for larger view)

 

Post Hardship Differential, Danger Pay, and Difficult-to-Staff Incentive Differential (also known as Service-Needs Differential) are all considered recruitment and retention incentives. These allowances are designed to recruit employees to posts where living conditions may be difficult or dangerous.

 

Continue reading

Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)

 Posted: 11:53 EST

 

Danger pay allowance is authorized for service in foreign areas where there exist conditions of civil insurrection, civil war, terrorism, or wartime conditions that threaten physical harm or imminent danger to the health or well being of an employee. To establish danger pay, a post must submit the danger pay factors form (DS578, see pdf) that enumerates specific conditions that justify danger pay. Allowances specialists who prepare assessments that assign points using a standard methodology then review the forms. A Danger Pay Working Group is responsible for reviewing danger pay factors forms to ascertain whether conditions exist to justify payment of the danger pay allowance.

As of this month, a total of 26 countries with 45 posts are eligible to receive danger pay allowance according to the publicly available data from the State Department’s Office of Allowances. We only have a virtual presence post in Somalia, and embassy operations in Damascus, Tripoli and Sana’a have all been temporarily suspended as of this writing.  Note that “other” indicate locations within specific countries not specifically identified, e.g. Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. (Learn more, see DSSR 650).

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

DOS | Top Danger Post Assignments | Feb 2015

 

 

Peter Van Buren Writes An Embassy Evacuation Explainer For DipNote No, Reuters

Posted: 01:04 EST

 

On February 11, the State Department  suspended US Embassy operations in Yemen and relocated its remaining skeleton staff outside of the country until further notice.  News report says that more than 25 vehicles were taken by Houthi rebels after the American staff departed Sanaa’s airport.  According to WaPo, Abdulmalek al-Ajri, a member of the Houthis’ political bureau, said that the seized vehicles would be returned to local staff at the U.S. Embassy on Wednesday evening, with a U.N. official observing the handover.

Ajri said the U.S. Embassy was being guarded by Yemeni security forces, which have fallen under the Houthis’ control. The security forces have not entered the embassy compound, which is still being managed by the facility’s local Yemeni staff, he said.
[…]
Ajri said he did not know how many embassy vehicles the group had seized at the airport. He claimed that a fight broke out over the vehicles between local embassy staffers, forcing Houthi fighters to intervene and seize them.

We haven’t heard anything about the return of those vehicles to Embassy Sana’a. As to this purported fight between local embassy staffers over the embassy vehicles, that is simply ridiculous — what, like the local employees are fighting over who could take which armored vehicle home? That’s silly.

What is not silly is that we still have local employees at Embassy Sana’a. They, typically, are not evacuated when post suspends operations.  In 2003, Ghulam Sakhi Ahmadzai, the building maintenance supervisor at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul was  the Foreign Service National Employee of the Year. He was recognized for his exceptional efforts in Afghanistan during the 13-year absence of American employees and following the reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in December 2001. His loyalty to the U.S. government and to maintaining the integrity of the embassy during that absence, despite personal risk, could not be repaid by that one award. No doubt there are other Ghulams in Tripoli and Sana’a and in other posts where we have suspended operations in the past. Please keep them in your thoughts.

Reading the newsclips and the tweets in the lead up to this latest evacuation, one cannot help but note that most folks do not really know what happens in an evacuation. Former FSO Peter Van Buren wrote a helpful explainer about embassy evacuations for Reuters.  This is an explainer that should have been on DipNote.  For folks who might be upset with this evac explainer, go find those anonymous officials who talked about this evacuation while we still had people on the ground.

The mechanics of closing an embassy follow an established process; the only variable is the speed of the evacuation. Sometimes it happens with weeks of preparation, sometimes with just hours.

Every American embassy has standing evacuation procedures, or an Emergency Action Plan. In each embassy’s emergency plan are built-in, highly classified “trip wires,” or specific thresholds that trigger scripted responses. For example, if the rebels advance past the river, take steps “A through C.” Or if the host government’s military is deserting, implement steps “D through E,” and so forth, until the evacuation is complete.

Early steps include moving embassy dependents, such as spouses and children, out of the country on commercial flights. Next is the evacuation of non-essential personnel, like the trade attaché, who won’t be doing much business if a coup is underway. While these departures are underway, the State Department issues a public advisory notifying private American citizens of the threat. The public alert is required by the U.S.’s “No Double Standard” rule, which grew out of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of a Pan Am flight. In that case, threat info was made available to embassy families, but kept from the general public.

These embassy drawdown steps are seen as low-cost moves, both because they use commercial transportation, and because they usually attract minimal public attention.

Continue reading, Who gets out when a U.S. embassy closes, and who gets left behind?

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From the State Dept With Love ♥︎ Your Online Sweetie Might Be An Overseas Scammer

Posted: 01:30 EST

 

The State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs has gone Buzzfeed with 6 Signs Your Online Sweetie Might Be An Overseas Scammer (complete with pics and gifs).

The Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs receives daily calls about international scams involving Internet dating. Many scams are initiated through the Internet; victims range in age from teens to the elderly and come from all socio-economic backgrounds. 

Our favorite is probably #5.  Your love interest has really. Bad. Luck.

Image via travel.state.gov/buzzfeed community.

Image via travel.state.gov/buzzfeed community

Check out the whole list here.

According to travel.state.gov, in many scam scenarios, the correspondent suddenly falls into dire circumstances overseas (i.e. an arrest or a horrible car accident) about two to three months after a connection is made.  The correspondent will ask you to send money for hospital bills, visa fees, or legal expenses.  It is also common for scammers to tell U.S. citizens that a close family member, usually a teenager, is in desperate need of surgery and  to request monetary assistance.  You may even be contacted by a “doctor” requesting that money be sent to the hospital on behalf of the correspondent.  Note that any doctor, lawyer, or police officer who contacts you is likely a part of the scam. The amounts lost by U.S. citizens in these types of scams can range from relatively small amounts to more than $400,000.

This could ruin a few Internet romance on the most romantic week of the year, but click here to read more about Internet dating and romance scams from the folks who have heard it all.

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