Keep your money safe from money transfer scams

Fraud costs Brits many billions of pounds each year – and money transfer scams are the biggest culprit.

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Millions of people are affected by money transfer scams each year. Learn what to look out for so you can keep your money safe.

The most common money transfer scams always include at least one of the following:

  • A request from someone you’ve never met.
  • Someone in a crisis that you can’t tell anyone else about.
  • A money transfer being the only form of payment accepted.
  • Paying money to get more money back.

Common money transfer scams to watch out for

Scam What to watch out for What to do
Accidental payment scam Someone “accidentally” sending you money on Paypal, Apple Pay and similar apps Do not send the money back. Ask the sender to cancel the transaction
Online purchases Asking for money upfront Do not pay up front. Ask to meet or arrange escrow
Lottery and sweeps Must pay a fee to receive your prize Ignore it; it’s not a real prize
“Get out of jail” A person claiming to be a loved one asks you to send bail money Never send a money transfer until you can verify you know the recipient
“Guaranteed” loans Request to pay for your application or taxes before you receive the loan Rip it up. Do not send the money
Phishing Asking for personal details over email (bank accounts, passwords, passport number) Do not reply or click any link; forward the email to report@phishing.gov.uk
Fake cheques Receiving a cheque payment with a request to transfer the difference back to the sender Take it to your bank to verify if it’s real or fake
Mystery shopper You’re sent a cheque along with your welcome letter and told to send a bank transfer back Ignore this offer and do not cash the cheque
Charity Donation requests from a fake charity posing as a real one Never send money when donating to charity, regardless of its legitimacy
Nigerian dignitary Someone 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 traveller” A loved one 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 dating Getting to know someone online and after you feel a connection, they ask you to send money Never send money to someone you have not met in person

  • “Accidental” money transfer

You receive a transfer on PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay or a similar service from someone you don’t know. The amount of this transfer may vary, but will probably be a few hundred pounds. You’ll receive a message after the transfer claiming that it was sent on accident, and the sender will ask you to send the money back. You want to do the right thing so you refund them the “accidental” transfer amount, only to realise later you never received a transfer from them to begin with, and now you’ve lost a few hundred pounds, or even more.

  • What to do

Do not refund them the amount. Chances are the original transfer they sent you was paid for with a stolen credit card and it will be cancelled on its own. Instead, ask the user who “accidentally” sent you money to cancel the transaction on their end, or request that they contact the platform directly for assistance.

  • Online purchase scams

You’ve found your dream flat 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 bank transfer first. Maybe your search for a car has paid off with an unbelievable deal, but there are application fees you need to cover. 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 got 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 bank transfer or cheque, find another retailer. Or ask to meet in person.

  • Lottery and sweepstakes scams

What luck! You’ve received a letter saying you’ve won 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. The fee is such a small amount, only 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 organisation 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 most likely is.

  • “Get out of jail” scams

An email or phone call may come in from someone claiming to be a loved one, or from someone claiming to be a lawyer or police officer on behalf of a loved one. The person requests money be transferred immediately in order to cover the bail payment.

  • What to do

Never send money without verifying the identity of the recipient. If you’re concerned you may be leaving someone in the wind, ask for the details of where they’re supposedly being held, then try to contact the loved one through friends, family members and contact information you had prior to the call.

  • “Guaranteed” loan scams

You get a letter saying you’re guaranteed approval for a loan or credit card. There’s only one last task before you can get it: send 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 details. Or it could be from an online shop 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 just forward it to the National Cyber Security Centre’s dedicated email address, report@phishing.gov.uk.

  • Fake cheque scams

Just 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 got a reply to your online auction with a cheque that’s for more than your item, with a simple request for you to transfer back the difference. The cheque is most likely to be fake, leaving you on the hook for both the money you send and a bounced cheque fee from your bank.

  • What to do

If you receive a cheque, 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 cheque – 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 cheque for the difference back. Better yet, send a bank transfer to make it you refund the company more quickly.

  • What to do

You’ve likely recognised this for what it is: just another variation of the fake cheque scam. Do not cash the cheque. Lose the number for this bogus company, instead of losing your hard-earned cash.

  • Charity scams

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 transfer to cover the cost of aid.

  • What to do

Research the charity online through the government’s Charity Register. Because some scammers use names that closely resemble well-known, reputable organisations, Google the exact name shown in your email or letter. And never send money to anybody claiming to be a charity. It’s best to pay by cheque or credit card.

  • Nigerian dignitary – or 419 – scams
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 traveller” scams

This one involves an email from friends, often ones travelling abroad, who’ve found themselves in trouble and need money to be sent 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 send money without being certain you know the recipient.

How to safely make a same-day transfer to a loved one

  • 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 DM or text chat. They may claim to be working overseas with plans to visit soon. Over the course of some time, you’re lead to believe there’s a strong connection. And then they ask for you to send some money.

  • What to do

By now, you know the answer: don’t send 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 money transfer scams

Avoid becoming a victim of a scammer by following a few basic rules:

  • Never send money to strangers. Under any circumstances.
  • Pay by credit card. That way, you’ll have some recourse if things go awry.
  • Be wary of unsolicited emails. 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.

Table: sorted by a combination of service offering and the amount your recipient will receive

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
GBP 1,000 Same day GBP 0.00 1.11 EUR
1,110
SpartanFX offers fee-free transfers, a best exchange rate guarantee and personalised one-to-one support for every customer. Go to site Show details
GBP 1 Same day GBP 0.00 1.115 EUR
1,115
Whatever amount you transfer, XE will not charge you a fee for using their service. Go to site Show details
GBP 10 Within an hour GBP 1.99 1.106 EUR
1,104
Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
GBP 5 2 days EUR 3.00 1.115 EUR
1,115
Special offer: Zero fees on your first 10 transfers.
Get bank-beating exchange rates and fast transfer times on 15+ popular currencies.
Go to site Show details
GBP 10 Within an hour GBP 2.00 1.115 EUR
1,113
First two transfers free for new customers.
Instant or 1 hour transfers to over 50 countries, send money directly to bank accounts or over 280,000 cash pickup points.
Go to site Show details
GBP 50 Same day GBP 2.99 1.11 EUR
1,106
Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Conditions apply.
An online money transfer service with cash pick-up, bank account to bank account and airtime transfers available.
Go to site Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

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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 the police. File a police report for the amount you’ve been defrauded.
  • File a complaint with the FCA. You can contact them online.

Many online seller websites like eBay have their own protocol for reporting and dealing with scammers. If you’ve sent money, you can also alert your money transfer company of your situation so it 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. Money 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 recognise and put a stop to them.

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