Complete list of the most common money transfer scams
hacker on computer money scams

Keep your money safe from money transfer scams

Look out for common scams to avoid being separated from your money.

Billions of dollars are transferred among friends, family and businesses around the world through international money transfers every day. Unfortunately, 1 in 10 people have been defrauded through online schemes designed to take as much of that money as they can. While not all scams will reach you online, phishing and other cybercrime cost Americans nearly $100 billion each year.
And scammers are only becoming more sophisticated, using increasingly elaborate schemes to trick you into revealing personal and financial information. Here, we look at some of the most common online wire scams so that you can know what to look for and avoid being a victim.

Common money transfer scams to watch out for

ScamWhat to watch out forWhat to do
Online purchasesAsking for money up frontDo not pay up front, ask to meet or arrange escrow
Lottery and sweepsMust pay a fee to receive your prizeIgnore it; it’s not a real prize
“Guaranteed” loansRequest to pay for your application or taxes before you receive the loanRip it up; do not send the money
PhishingAsking for personal details over email (bank accounts, passwords, SSN)Do not reply or click any links – forward the email to spam@uce.gov
Bogus checksReceiving a check payment with a request to wire the difference back to the senderTake it to your bank to verify if its real or fake
Mystery shopperYou’re sent a check along with your welcome letter and told to send a money order back.Don’t cash the money order – ignore this offer.
CharityDonation requests from a fake charity posing as real one.Never wire money when donating to charity, regardless of their legitimacy.
Nigerian dignitarySomeone contacts you to help recover a large sum of money, and need your bank account info to help pay fees.Never provide financial information over email.
“Stranded traveler”A loved claims to be in trouble, and they are asking for you to send cash.Never send a money transfer until you can verify you know the recipient.
Online datingGetting to know someone online and after you feel a connection, they ask you to wire money.Never send money to someone you have not met in person.

Online purchase scams

You’ve found your dream apartment but are requested to transfer the first month’s rent up front. Or a timeshare, but there are taxes you need to take care of with a money order first. Maybe your search for a car has paid off with an unbelievable deal, but there are application fees you need to cover with a wire transfer. While many online retailers are legitimate, scammers leverage the anonymity of the Internet to rip you off. That includes asking for money before you’ve even gotten the merchandise. Before you know it, they’re gone — along with your money.

  • What to do

Be wary of anybody online who tells you there’s upfront deposits or payments — especially if you haven’t yet met them and there’s no contract. And if anybody online says you can only pay with a wire transfer or money order, find another retailer. Or ask to meet in person.

Lottery and sweepstakes scams

What luck! You’ve received a letter that you’ve scored a prize. Or maybe you’re contacted about a lottery you’ve won. It’s a lot of money, and there’s only one catch: you first need to pay a fee or cover taxes to receive it. It’s such a small amount, about $1,000. Surely that’s worth receiving what you’re due.

  • What to do

You should never have to pay up front to receive a prize or lottery winnings. That alone should raise red flags. But if you’re curious, research the organization or company from which you’ve received your letter to see what others have to say. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“Guaranteed” loan scams

You get a letter that you’re guaranteed approval for a loan or credit card. There’s only one last task before you can get it: wire money for the application or taxes. That’s easy enough, right?

  • What to do

You should never need to send money in order to receive an authentic credit card or loan. Instead of sending the money, research the company who sent you the letter. You’ll probably see warnings from others to rip it up.

Phishing scams

You open your computer to an email from your bank asking you to verify your account number. Or it could be from an e-retailer needing confirmation of your password. Sometimes it’s a link from your email provider itself asking you to click and double-check your details. It’s all so official, how could it not be legit?

  • What to do

Don’t be tricked into giving out any personal information. Keep in mind that you will never be emailed by a legitimate bank, retailer or other service provider to confirm your personal information, financial details or password. This is called “phishing”, and you should not reply or click any links in the email – instead simply forward it to the Federal Trade Commission’s dedicated email address, spam@uce.gov.

Bogus check scams

Because you’re the online seller doesn’t mean you’re safe from scammers. Unbelievably, they’ll find a way even when the tables are turned. You may have gotten a reply to your online auction with a check that’s for more than your item — with simple request for you to wire back the difference. The check is likely fake, leaving you on the hook for both the money you wire and a bounced check fee from your bank.

  • What to do

If you receive a cashier’s check, do not cash it. Take it to your bank or the authorities for verification.

Mystery shopper scams

You may be contacted about a fun new gig: becoming a mystery shopper for a local retail chain. Along with your welcome letter, you’re sent a money order. Only the amount is more than it should be. When you contact the number on your letter, you’re told to go ahead and cash it, and then simply send a money order for the overage. Better yet, send a wire transfer to make it you refund the company more quickly.

  • What to do

You’ve likely recognized this for what it is: just another variation of the bogus check scam. Do not cash the money order. And lose the number for this bogus company, instead of losing your hard-earned cash.

Charity scam

Disasters bring out the best in people. But they can also unearth con artists who prey on the altruistic. Be cautious of letters requesting donations in cash or by wire transfer to cover the cost of aid.

  • What to do

Research the charity online with a site like Charity Navigator. Because some scammers use names that closely resemble well-known, reputable organizations, Google the exact name shown in your email or letter. And never wire money to anybody claiming to be a charity. It’s best to pay by check or credit card.

Nigerian dignitary scams

Though it’s the butt of many jokes, the “Nigerian prince” scam is among the top five largest revenue sources for Nigeria — it’s that successful. For this scam, you’re contacted by somebody requesting your help in recovering a great deal of money. They claim that if you help them by providing your banking account information or money to pay fees, you’ll be rewarded with a substantial portion of the money.

  • What to do

This is just another variation of the advance fee scam. Never provide your financial information or send money to anybody you don’t know.

“Stranded traveler” scams

This one involves an email from friends, often ones traveling abroad, who’ve found themselves in trouble and need money wired immediately to return home. The amount is nearly always $1,000 or more and may even appear to come from a friend’s actual email address. Except it’s not actually your friend who’s sending it. Instead, their account has been hijacked through a phishing scam.

  • What to do

Be wary of any email from a friend in trouble overseas. Attempt to make contact with them or confirm their whereabouts with your social network. As with other scams, never wire money without being certain you know the recipient. How to safely make an emergency money transfer to a friend or family member.
The world traveler’s guide to money management

Online dating scams

Another tough one — and therefore popular among scammers — involves a bond with somebody you’ve met online through a dating site. Often, that person wants to immediately leave the site for a more intimate IM or text chat. They may claim to be working overseas with plans to visit soon. Over the course of some time, you’re let to believe there’s a strong connection. And then they ask for you to wire some money.

  • What to do

By now, you know the answer: don’t wire money to anybody you don’t know. You could ask to meet in person, even if it seems impossible — their refusal will be a clear sign that they may not be who they say they are. If you were emailed a photo, consider using a reverse photo search to see if you can confirm the name you’ve been given. You may discover many names attached to the photo. Again, a clear sign that you’re dealing with a scammer.

How to keep safe from scammers

Avoid becoming a victim of a wire transfer scam by following a few basic tenets:

  • Never wire money to strangers. Period.
  • Pay by credit card. That way, you’ll have some recourse if things go awry.
  • Be wary of unsolicited email. Your email, financial and other service providers will never email you to confirm personal info or passwords.
  • Go with your gut. Con artists deal in pressure and threats. When in doubt, slow down. A quick online search can often confirm your suspicions.

How to choose a reputable money transfer provider

Most reputable online providers will have up to date security measures in place to make sure your data and information is secure when sending an international money transfer. Many will have dedicated email addresses or customer service phone lines to receive tips on potential scams. When choosing a provider, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and compare your options to find the safest one for you.

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I may be the victim of a scam. What should I do?

If you suspect that you’re the victim of a money transfer scam:

  • Call your local police. File a police report for the amount you’ve been defrauded.
  • File a complaint with the FTC. Call toll-free at 877-382-4357 or file a complaint online at ftc.com/complaint.
  • Contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center. This partnership of the FBI and National White Collar Crime Center is for victims of fraud that began with Internet contact.

Many online seller websites like eBay have their own protocol for reporting and dealing with scammers. If you’ve wired money, you can also alert your wire transfer company of your situation so they can be ready for any future complaints. While it’s tough to admit that you might have been the victim of somebody’s wrongdoing, try not to be too hard on yourself. Wire transfer scams are on the rise because these cons are constantly evolving. By reporting it and talking openly about your experience, you’re helping others to recognize and put a stop to them.
Learn about credit card skimmers and how to keep your card safe.

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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    JoseApril 4, 2018

    Have you heard of this flipping your money scam on instagram?

    • Staff
      joelmarceloApril 4, 2018Staff

      Hi Jose,

      Thanks for leaving a question on finder.

      The “flipping your money” scam has been around for more than 3 years now in social media. Think about this, how would someone you never met and will never see take a penny from you and return 2 pennies, let alone hundreds? :) If you suspect that someone is attempting to scam you, you might be tempted to play sleuth, but report them instead. Keep in mind that most scammers have taken precautions by making themselves untraceable.

      Cheers,
      Joel

  2. Default Gravatar
    JenethMarch 20, 2018

    Can a scammers use a real bank name? Say al america bank and a chairman of the boards name?

    • Staff
      RonMarch 24, 2018Staff

      Hello Jeneth,

      Good day! Appreciate you contacting finder regarding your inquiry today.

      Scammers have a variety of unexpected ways to deceive people. We should expect no less if we want to make sure we are on the safe side. There are scammers who may banks’ names when communicating with their victims that look so real and legitimate others get deceived. Same goes if they know the organizational structure of the banks, they may use names of high officials.

      It would be best to stay cautious and alert at all times. If you are unsure or doubtful, always directly coordinate with your bank. If possible avoid doing online transactions; instead do it in-bank personally. Or make sure you use the official websites for your transactions.

      Kindly go through this page to check on “what to do” to avoid falling victim to these scammers.

      Hope this helps!

      All the best,
      Ron

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