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AML “Clearance Certificates” are a Scam

If you’ve received an email, letter or call telling you that a larger than usual sum of money is headed your way, but before it can be delivered to your bank, you are required to get a clearance certificate, you are being set up for a scam.


The Setup

The scam goes by many names, but the setup is almost always the same…

Step 1: The Sexy Promise

The scammers need you to want to talk to them. To pique your interest, they’ll promise something that they think you will want. In most cases, it’s not a crazy sum of money that will be sent to you – most people would immediately recognize that as a scam. Instead, it will be a reasonable sum that is nonetheless attractive for your business.

In the most sickening cases that we’ve seen, the scammers have focused on charities by posing as potential donors. Outlier has even received a request for a clearance certificate from a “prospective client overseas.”

Step 2: The Legitimate Power

The scammers will claim that the certificate is being requested by a legitimate organization. Some of the scams that we’ve seen have said that certificates are required by:

  • Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC),
  • Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN),
  • Office of the Currency Controller (OCC).
  • Securities Exchange Commission (SEC),
  • S. Department of Homeland Security,
  • International Monetary Fund (IMF), and
  • Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

None of these agencies issue, require, or have any other involvement with clearance certificates. In fact, if you call any of these agencies to ask about clearance certificates, they will tell you that you are likely the victim of a scam.

Step 3: The Real Threat

The type of “clearance certificate” that the scammers will ask for varies, but it’s usually something that most businesses have at least read about in the news, like “anti-money laundering” or “anti-terrorism.” It’s always something that sounds like it could be a real threat, although definitely not the type of threat that you would pose. Sometimes the requests will be phrased in a way that’s meant to make you feel a little bit indignant (“Why would this person think I’m a money launderer or a terrorist?!?)…

This is all part of the scam. If you’re emotional, you may not be thinking clearly, and it helps the scammer to build rapport with the victim. The scammer may offer consolations like, “Of course, I know that you’re not a criminal, but according to the * insert the authority from step 2 here * we must take these precautions…”

Step 4: Solving the Problem

The scammer is trying to collect as much information (especially financial information) as possible. The scammer will ask for your details directly (all for the purpose of obtaining the certificate, of course) or helpfully suggest a site for a “company” that can help you get your certificate.

Generally, this site requires a credit card payment (these may range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars). In more sophisticated scams, the site’s fine print states that the certificates are “not authorized by any government or international body” and that there are absolutely no refunds. This means that even if the victim reports the scam to their credit card company, they may not be able to issue a refund.

Step 5: Profit

At this stage, the scammers have the victim’s banking and/or credit card information. They may use this to conduct transactions (like draining the bank account or paying for things with the credit card), or simply sell the information on the dark web to other scammers.

Don’t Get Caught Up

It can be hard to believe that someone that you’ve been corresponding with, someone that seems like they could be good for business, is really just a scammer. It’s difficult, and embarrassing – but the sooner you exit the situation, the better off you are.

While you should report the incident (more about that below), it can be dangerous to attempt to bait the scammer to get more information about them (and the information that they provide is likely to be false in any case). Do collect as much information from your existing correspondence with the scammer (including screen captures and/or links to any websites that the scammer has provided you with), as these will be helpful in reporting the scam.

But if You Did, Protect Yourself

If you have already provided some, or all, of your financial details, it’s in your best interest to act quickly.   Contact your financial institution(s) and let them know what’s happened. They will be able to close your existing accounts, issue new accounts and review your recent transaction history with you.

Report It

At any point, you can report the scam to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre either online or by phone (1-888-495-8501).

Need A Hand?

While Outlier is not a law enforcement or investigative agency, we do conduct staff training sessions, including training related to common scams and how to recognize them. You can get in touch with us at or by using the online form.

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