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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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
Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.
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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.
Frequently asked questions
No, don’t engage. You might be tempted to play sleuth, but report them instead. Keep in mind that most smart scammers have taken precautions by making themselves untraceable.
Unfortunately, perpetrators are often untraceable once the scam is complete. But you should definitely report it to the FCA or Action Fraud and they may be able to investigate further for you.
No, you are not legally obligated to pay for anything you didn’t order. If you receive a bill or harassing letters that you need to pay, let the seller know you didn’t order it. If they insist, ask for proof that you ordered the item from them. If the harassment continues, contact your state consumer protection agency.
Adrienne Fuller is the head of publishing at Finder US. With a decade of experience creating guides in finance and education, she aims to deliver the accurate and transparent information she wishes she had when she made some of life's important financial decisions. For the past 3 years she has been the publisher of money transfers, helping readers save when they send money all over the globe. She has a BA from Colorado College and loves to hike with her two Catahoula dogs around her home in San Diego.
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