Here are links to some useful websites to help consumers avoid getting scammed.more>>
If you have a computer, you've probably gotten one of those emails that say you've just won a lot of money or some foreign government needs your help getting money out of that country.
They are known as "Nigerian" scams.
Consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus found a local couple who fell victim to one of these international operations.
But, in their case, they didn't get an email. Their problems all started with a letter.
Janet Brooks and her husband Bill thought the letter in their mailbox was the answer to their prayers.
"It's a miracle," she recalls thinking. "It's going to make life really easy."
The letter, from a company in Canada, claimed the Brooks were owed $762,095 in bonds.
"It looked official," says Janet Brooks.
So they called the toll-free number to claim their money and were told they would have to first pay a $250 handling fee. "And it just sort of snowballed from there," says Brooks.
"That should be a red flag," says Keith Perrigan, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service in Nashville.
He says the letter, like the e-mails you get that ask for help transferring money out of another country or the ones that say you've won an international lottery, is a classic Nigerian scam.
"The one common thing with all these type scams is that there is always a fee that you end up having to pay," says Perrigan.
And although the Brooks paid the $250 fee to get their money, the money never came.
Then, they were told they had to come up with even more money to cover taxes.
Later, they told they needed to send money for insurance, security fees, delivery fees, transfer fees and finally document fees.
"There's this fee, there's that fee. There's now an international tax, ‘we ran into some difficulties, could you pay this fee?'" says Perrigan.
But Brooks says, "Each time that they came up with a situation, we felt like it was legitimate." So they kept sending money to the man who kept repeatedly asking for more.
"He was so sincere about everything he said," says Brooks.
In fact, as we visited with the Brooks they got a call from him assuring the Brooks they'd finally get their money -- as soon as they sent one last check.
"When can we get that seven thousand and we finish it, William?" the scammer asks Bill Brooks.
Perrigan says, "They're expert scammers and expert scammers have the ability to lure people in."
And he says these scammers are usually impossible to catch and prosecute because they generally operate outside the United States.
In fact, the Brooks were told to send their money to five different cities around the world including: Houston, Texas; Vancouver, Canada; Sydney, Australia; Paris, France; and Kigali in the African nation of Rwanda.
NewsChannel 5 discovered the address in Houston is simply a business that forwards mail.
And our investigation found it's been used in similar scams.
Authorities in Australia also tell us the address there is now the focus of an investigation by their state fraud unit.
Since the Brooks received their letter they've sent nearly $40,000 overseas, their entire life savings.
And, in return, they say they've received absolutely nothing.
"I'd like to get my hands on them," Bill Brooks says. "I'll be honest about it."
Perrigan adds, "You'll never get money. They'll continually ask you to send more."
And that's what happened as we listened to the scammer ask the Brooks for more.
"I've told you what you have to do now," says the scammer. "That's what is needed. They agreed that once they get the $7,000 they can now release it."
And Perrigan says as long as the scammers can continue to get you to spend more money and send them more money, they'll be after you.
The Brooks say they've been told their windfall has supposedly now grown into more than a million dollars, but they say they now know better.