Money Transfer Scams:
How to stay safe and free of being scammed
It’s all-too-easy to think that you’re safe from potential money transfer scams. After all, if you’re not planning on wiring money to a Nigerian prince or to your relative who is “travelling abroad” and needs you to wire money to them immediately for an emergency, you’re probably in the clear. Right? Wrong.
Money transfer scams (not to be confused with Scandals conducted by banks) come in all shapes and sizes, and are surprisingly difficult to catch if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Money transfer scams have become increasingly common in recent years due to the greater access to internet.
This is because many more people are engaging in the global market of money transfer. As more and more people continue to live and travel abroad, the need for money wiring has become greater. This allows more possibility for people running money transfer scams to capitalize.
What kinds of scams are there?
There are many kinds of money transfer scams out there. Some of them are obvious – if you get an email from your “sister” who is travelling abroad and needs you to wire money to them as soon as possible because they’ve run into an emergency situation but you know your sister is happily out to dinner with her husband on their anniversary tonight, that’s obviously a scam. However, there are other, less obvious scams that exist.
For example, a scam may look like any of the following:
- You won a contest but before collecting your prize you have to pay taxes or fees.
- You won a prize but in order for you to not pay taxes on it you have to wire money so that the prize looks like a “gift.” The money is “guaranteed” to be returned to you.
- There’s been a problem with your recent online purchase and they need you to wire money to pay for it before they can send the product.
- You received a check (or will receive a check) for too much money, so you’ll need to reimburse some of it via a wire transfer.
- Someone overpays you on an item or service you’re selling and asks you to cash their check and wire a portion of it back to them to adjust their mistake.
- You are employed by a “mystery shopping” or similar service company where someone sends you a check to evaluate the service at any given money transfer service center.
- You find a job ad that sounds too good to be true – you can work from home, earn thousands of dollars each month, or travel to desirable destinations – but there’s a catch (you must pay application fees, the employer will wire you money to buy startup supplies but you must wire the remaining balance back to them, etc.).
- You are interested in renting a property but the owner who is renting their home and advertising it is “out of town” and requires you to look at the property alone and wire them an application and/or security deposit in exchange for the keys.
- You are contacted by a service claiming to be a well-known antivirus software. They claim they have detected a virus on your PC. They ask you to wire them money to fix the virus or give them private access to your computer so they can “install an antivirus software” but they wire themselves money/steal your credit card information.
These are just some of the money transfer scams you may encounter. While some of them seem obvious, the lies behind them are what make them convincing. For example, if someone would like to rent your apartment but is from out of the state or country, they may send you a check for a security deposit. If something falls through and they can’t move in they may want the deposit back via wire transfer.
Unfortunately, in these cases, a check can be fake and the wire transfer is permanent and entirely anonymous. You are officially out the amount of the security deposit you thought was paid to you. Let’s look at a few of the most common (and the most deceptive) money transfer scams that are out there.
Most Common Money Transfer Scams 2017
The Western Union Scam
The situation outlined above is essentially a popular money transfer scam known as the Western Union Scam (named after the transmitter of funds Western Union money transfer, rather than the perpetrator . A scammer send you money under a guise of payment. Whether that’s paying you for a product or service, or whether that’s sending you money as a middle-man in their business (which you would then turn around and wire to someone else and keep a percentage as your “commission”), it a scam nonetheless.
That’s because fake checks that are cashed are still traced back to you, the one who cashed the check. This, of course, doesn’t usually happen until after you’ve wired money to the third-party through Western Union. Western Union makes wire transfers so that the person receiving the transfer can pick up the cash that was wired from any Western Union. This makes it incredibly difficult to track who the scammer is, and you won’t be reimbursed for the money you transferred.
This isn’t so much a scam as it’s a ransomware tactic that cyber hackers often use to protect their privacy while still demanding money for frozen data or stolen information. Bitcoin is a decentralized currency that, while not completely anonymous, does make it easier for cyber attackers to remain somewhat unidentifiable. The scam, if it isn’t an all-out ransomware attack, often looks like this:
A scammer encourages you to purchase bitcoins or bitcoin “wallets” that contain a malware. This malware then damages your computer system and, additionally, leaves your digital data unprotected and accessible by the attackers.
Bitcoin scams have had a surge in recent months which are directly connected to the rising value of bitcoin. The scenario described above isn’t the only bitcoin scam that exists. In fact, there are many, and they’re getting increasingly difficult to uncover. However, the scams are generally simple. In some recent cases, imposters have mimicked legitimate big-wigs in the bitcoin community (like David Parker of CryptoCoinsNews.com) and after a bitcoin rate is negotiated for work (whether that’s a sponsored post, etc.) the imposters request bitcoins to be transferred to an invalid bitcoin address. Of course, they aren’t the person they’re claiming to be, and users cannot retrieve the transferred bitcoins once they’ve been sent.
There are also fake bitcoin currency exchange websites out there that are created with the sole purpose of scamming bitcoin users. These sites sometimes con users into sending bitcoins to their wallets, or worse, they hack the user’s login information – giving them full access to their credentials and funds. Yet another bitcoin scam that’s becoming increasingly prevalent is the “bitcoin mining” scam. These scams target users looking to make money by selling bitcoin and adding bitcoin transactions to the blockchain. These users are generally looking for a fast, easy ROI. However, bitcoin mining is a dying income generator, and it’s getting more and more difficult to make a profit through bitcoin mining. If a company is promising something that sounds unreasonably profitable or simple – it’s likely a scam.
Finally, there is the app and plugin genre of bitcoin scams. These are a relatively new development in the bitcoin scam-world. They are also incredibly dangerous and difficult to spot. With ever-improving technology, the availability of mobile and web apps and plugins either as an internet browser extension or otherwise is growing. As these options expand, the opportunities for fraudsters to imitate these apps and plugins and take the bitcoins used there (or the user’s information) and steal it are also expanding. Legitimate bitcoin apps and plugins, particularly Local Bitcoin, have come out and warned against these fraudsters.
CEO Email Scams
This type of money transfer scam is especially tricky, as nobody wants to go against what their boss asks of them! In this type of scam, fraudsters imitate a CEO’s (or head executive’s) email address and request employees to wire money to a “beneficiary.” The messages are constructed to seem like the executive/CEO is simply busy and can’t get to this task themselves. Employees are usually willing to comply because they trust their boss. However, if your boss is requesting that you wire money to someone, it’s worth touching base one more time. Give them a text or a phone call to confirm that this is accurate. If it’s not, they need to know immediately.
Companies can attempt to halt the problem or rescue the executive’s personal information if their inbox was hacked instead of just imitated. These situations are especially sensitive, and preventative action must be taken as soon as possible.
Fake Invoicing Scams
A similar situation to the scam described above is one in which fraudsters imitate or hack a CEO or executive’s email address to send fraudulent invoices to paying clients and customers. These fraudulent invoices can be reflective of multi-million dollar deals in some cases, and they are incredibly serious. On the flip side, sometimes hackers send these invoices to the executives or to the accounts payable department of large organizations with instructions to wire invoice payment within a certain timeframe to a nominated bank account. This type of money transfer scam is called “whaling.” When these large companies conduct the amount of regular business that they do, a handful of fraudulent invoices can be difficult to catch. However, large businesses aren’t the only ones who are at risk. Have a set invoicing system in place and confirming payments with customers and clients can help to secure against any potential scams.
These scams can be especially dangerous for businesses. Depending on the kind of fraudulent invoicing software the hackers are using, they can access a wide variety of passwords, payment accounts, and other personal information. This doesn’t only jeopardize the company, it jeopardizes their employees, clients, and business associates. Recently, Florian Lukavsky, stopped some prominent whaling hackers and turned their information over to the police. Unfortunately, these scams still exist and are still difficult to catch.
Craigslist Money Transfer Scams
Finally, there is the Craigslist money transfer scams that are all too common. These aren’t specific to only Craigslist, but any online forum where things are bought and sold by individual users.
In these situations, the scammer usually posts a product of value at a reasonable rate. The products are usually big ticket items – cars, laptops, and similar items. When you contact the scammer interested in purchasing their item, they will require you to send the payment via wire transfer since they are “out of town” or “out of the country.” There is no product for them to sell you, they are only scamming you to take your money.
Rental Property Scam
Like the Craigslist money transfer scams, rental property scammers run a similar con. In these situations, a landlord or home owner posts advertisements claiming an interest in renting their home.
These homes are usually listed at a reasonable rate, and are accompanied with beautiful photos of the property.
The person of contact will tell you to tour the home by yourself as they are out of town or out of the country because of their recent move away from the property they’re now looking to rent. After you tour the property, they’ll either ask for an application fee, a security deposit, or both to be wired to them in addition to a range of personal information (like your current address and social security number).
Once you transfer the funds to this person they will either insist that the rental fell through or they will disappear and you won’t be able to trace or contact them. The properties these scammers target are usually legitimately for rent – just through another local rental company. Or the property has been abandoned and the scammer will have stolen a rental sign from a local, reputable company and placed it in the front yard to give them a sense of security to those they’re trying to scam.
Employment scams come in many shapes and sizes. The first thing to keep in mind is that if something sounds too good to be true, it very likely is. The two most common employment scams are the “mystery shopper” and the “startup cost” scams.
For employment ads listing a need for a mystery shopper to either test the quality of a money transfer service, otherwise known as a “mystery shopper,” they’re looking for individuals who are willing to take a check that was wired to them by this fraudulent “employer” and send it to a third party (usually described as another mystery shopper) through Western Union or another money transfer service. They’ll claim that once the money is transferred and approved, the funds (and your pay) will be wired back to you. Unfortunately, this never happens, and you find out that you’ve wired a fake check. You’ll be on the hook for the full amount of the check – and you’ll be out any pay you originally were anticipating.
The “startup cost” scam is a little bit different, and much more alluring. These businesses ordinarily advertise mind-blowing job perks. They’ll claim you can work from home for just a few hours a week and make thousands of dollars. The job might even sound fun – something to do with sales or team marketing. However, once you are interviewed and given the “job,” the employers will either require you pay a fee for the job application or that they’ll wire you money to purchase the required startup materials and you’ll wire them back the remaining balance. Unfortunately, as is usually the case when a scammer requests you send them back the “leftover funds” from a check they wired you, the initial check was fake and now you’re required to pay the full amount and they have your money that you wired them as the “remaining balance.”
Money transfer scams are a very real and very dangerous form of fraud. If you aren’t paying close attention, it’s easy to fall into the trap. However, if you follow the simple rules of double checking your sources and being skeptical of “too good to be true” offers, you’ll likely be able to root out many of these scams. When in doubt, run a quick search and see if there is any information out there on the specific person or type of deal you’re working with to see if it’s fraudulent – you can always learn from people who have already fallen for these scams!
Be sure you use money transfers with FCA approved companies and that you stay alert to any suspicious behavior. You have already made the first step towards staying safe when you read this guide!