Online money transfers are a fantastic way to send money quickly, securely, and easily to anyone, anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, there are also those who want to take advantage of these services for unscrupulous purposes.
In these situations, people might try to get you to give away your password, bank account information, or other sensitive details, but you could receive an odd message asking (or, more likely, demanding) that you make a money transfer for some vague yet apparently urgent reason.
We want to make sure that your money transfers are as safe and secure as possible. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the following common money transfer scams and some tips on how to avoid them.
Common money transfer scams
1. Urgent (and odd) requests
You've received an urgent message:
One of your loved ones is stranded abroad and needs money to get home.
A friend or family member has been imprisoned, and you need to send money so they’ll be released.
You’re apparently guilty of some vague 'criminal activity', and you need to transfer money so you won’t be arrested or imprisoned.
Your boss or someone else at your company is away on business, and needs money from you.
The list goes on. These messages will all have the same common threads: they claim that something drastic has happened, and that you need to transfer money to a certain individual as soon as possible to fix things.
The events listed above could conceivably happen, but if that were the case, you probably wouldn’t hear about them from a complete stranger, and quickly sending money to an unverified recipient wouldn’t be the solution. Double-check everything before you transfer.
2. 'Accidental' transfers, and sellers who require wire transfers
Let’s explore three scenarios:
Someone you’ve never met transfers you money completely out of the blue. They contact you and let you know that they sent the money to you by mistake, and ask you to send them the same amount back.
You’ve agreed to sell something to an online buyer. They transfer money to you, but it’s more than you agreed on. They contact you, explain their mistake, and ask that you transfer the difference back to them.
You want to purchase something from an online vendor. They ask that you provide upfront payment, and only accept wire transfers or money orders.
These three scenarios are common scams. If you were to transfer money to them, here’s what would happen:
These phony payments are typically made with a stolen card or other fraudulent means, so they’ll get cancelled on their own, without any money coming into your account. But once you send your own money back, it’s gone.
Similar to the above, the cheque that the buyer 'overpaid' with will likely bounce. Any 'difference' you transfer will be coming entirely out of your own pocket.
It’s possible that the seller is just more comfortable with a secure wire transfer. But if they insist upon upfront payment and refuse any other form of payment (such as meeting in person, or escrow), they could be planning on taking your money and never providing the item you tried to buy.
3. Phony charities
Many charities will reach out asking for support, but some scammers will also pose as charities and ask for you to transfer money to support their mission.
If you’re not familiar with the organisation, do a little research to ensure that they exist and are legitimate. If the message claims to be from a known organization, check with the charity to make sure that this is one of their official communications before sending any money.
4. Surprise, you’ve won a contest or received a job offer—but you need to pay first
Sound too good to be true? It probably is.
You may receive a message about a 'contest' or 'drawing' you’ve won. You’re going to get a great prize, but there’s a catch: before you can claim it, you’ll have to transfer a small amount (relative to the grand prize) to cover taxes or processing fees.
Or maybe you saw a posting for a job that sounded great. You’ve been offered the job, but they need you to transfer money over to cover your 'supplies' before you can start.
Needless to say, the prize money and the too-good-to-be-true job will disappear after you’ve sent your money.
5. Online relationships
Ever seen an episode of Catfish? Then you’re familiar with these scams, which typically take place on dating websites and apps.
Two people meet online and form a strong bond, but suddenly one of them needs money for an emergency. They’re ill, a loved one is ill, they need to move, or something else has happened that has led to them to asking their new friend (who they’ve never met) to transfer them money.
How can I avoid falling victim to money transfer fraud?
You probably noticed some common threads in the examples above. When you check your emails or interact with people online, keep an eye out for the following warning signs when someone asks you to transfer money:
The call or message came out of the blue, from someone you’ve never met or worked with in any capacity.
The communication claims to be professional but the details aren’t right; there might be spelling and grammar errors, broken links, you need to download an unspecified attachment, or an unbranded or incorrect email address (for example, legitimate messages from Amazon would come from an @amazon.com email address, while fraudulent ones might be from firstname.lastname@example.org).
The situation is incredibly urgent, and pushes you to transfer money as soon as possible.
It seems too good to be true, and wouldn’t make sense if you took a few minutes to think about it.