And How to Avoid Them
While it’s easier now more than ever to send money to your family abroad, pay a friend instantly, or pay for goods and services online with a money transfer service or mobile wallet, this ease comes with pitfalls.
You see, while you can spot some scams right away, other’s are a bit more difficult to recognize.
Scammers evolve with our awareness, but you can stay one step ahead of them.
Be Aware! 👍
In this article we uncover 7 common online money transfer scams to watch out for, how to avoid them, and how leading money transfer companies keep your money and data safe.
While there is a lot companies can do to try and help you (for example, Is Wise Safe?) there is only so much they can do.
Ultimately your understanding of how scams work and what you can do to prevent them is the answer.
Scam 1 – Advance Payments
In these types of online money transfer scams, people are generally asked to pay a fee or a large sum of money upfront before the goods or services are delivered.
A prime example, is the advanced-fee scam.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) states that, “An advance fee scheme occurs when the victim pays money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value—such as a loan, contract, investment, or gift—and then receives little or nothing in return.” Source wikipedia.
Typically, they’ll want you to pay a large amount often through a wire transfer in advance as a tax liability, “finder’s fee,” or incidental expense that they promise to refund.
There are many variations of this scam.
Another great example of advance payment fraud, is property rental in a different country.
Typically the scammer finds a property online and then pretends to be the owner through a fake listing online.
Then they ask for a deposit, bond or rent for the stay.
How to Avoid
Do not send money to people you have never met.
Make your own independent enquiries to validate claims and businesses.
If doing business with a people in a foreign country, seek expert independent 3rd parties to verify.
Scam 2 – Charitable Donations
Ever had anyone knock on your door, ask you for money after a natural disaster or major event, and then guilt you for not supporting a good cause?
That’s the first sign of a charitable donations scam – putting excessive pressure on people to take advantage of their compassion.
Here are some other warning signs of fake charities or charitable donation scams:
- Individuals posing as associates of legitimate charities and insisting you make a cash instead of writing a cheque to the charity. Or asking you to transfer money to their their personal account instead of the charitable organization’s account.
- Refusing to share a receipt or sharing a receipt that doesn’t have the registered name or legal information of the charity they claim to be from.
- Asking you to make a donation on a website without a secure payment gateway (a quick way to check this is whether their website URL says “http://” or “https:/” – if it’s “https://,” the website is secure).
How to Avoid
If you’ve lived in an area long enough and the charity that asks for donations claims to be local but you’ve never heard of them, that should be an instant red flag.
Also, before making any donations, visit the charitable organization’s website and see what they’re all about.
As an added layer of security, run a few online searches like “charity name + reviews,” “charity name + scam,” “charity name + money laundering,” “charity name + complaints,” and “fake wire transfer + charity name.”
If they have a legitimate trail of positive reviews and a thriving social media page, chances are they’re legit.
But if they have no digital trail beyond their website, a sparse social media presence, or you do get some hits from the searches we suggested – you may well be dealing with a fraudster.
Scam 3 – Emergency Fund Transfer Fraud
Anything happening to your family while you’re away, whether for work or travelling, is probably your worst nightmare.
Scammers know this and they try to create fake urgency so you act on an impulse and send a large amount of money their way.
How do they pull this off?
- By hacking into a family member’s email, social media, or instant messenger (like Voxer or WhatsApp) and sending a payment link or
- By posing as a well meaning doctors, nurses, hospital admin staff or lawyers who want to help out your family members in their time of distress by taking this task off their plate.
How to Avoid
The best way to avoid falling for this kind of money transfer scam is to slow the conversation down.
If possible, ask some questions that only the other person would know the answer to.
Call others to confirm with your friends and family if there’s indeed an emergency.
Scam 4 – Identity Theft
Identity theft via phishing, smishing, vishing (we’ll explain these in a minute) are popular ways scammers steal your personal and financial data.
What is phishing?
If a website you buy from frequently (typically small or medium sized businesses) doesn’t audit their payment gateways to ensure complete security, scammers can steal data such as your credit card pin, customer ID, CVV, etc.
More information about phishing can be found in wikipedia.
What is smishing?
You probably receive lots of text messages from your bank about new offers, bank down time, or updates about your transactions.
Sometimes, scammers sneak in a text message with a malware link which compromises your personal and financial data.
What is vishing?
Sometimes scammers call you up posing as bank officials and ask you a bunch of general as well as very specific questions in the hopes that you’ll give away sensitive data without realizing.
Scammers can use each method individually (and very tactfully) or a combination of these methods to steal your data and authorize payments on your credit card or bank account while you are kept in the dark.
More information about vishing can be found in wikipedia.
How to Avoid
Use strong passwords and do not re-use passwords. Use numbers and symbols when you can and change them regularly. Upgrade your security as much as possible when it comes to social media accounts, email accounts and financial services.
Do not respond to calls or emails asking for information.
Don’t click on links in emails – rather access through website directly
Keep your records safe from the mail box to the shredder.
Scam 5 – Money Mule or Money Laundering
Ever get emails that tell you’ve got that job you applied for or won a lottery, but you need to send money to someone else to actually get access to all of those things?
Chances are the scammers are trying to make you a part of “money mule” scams where they steal money from other people and use your good will with banks and money transfer companies to move funds from one account to another.
How to Avoid
If you’ve been hired by a legitimate company, they wouldn’t ask you to send them or anyone else money before you start working with them.
And, if any lottery winnings require you to pay for the shipping or access to your funds, chances are it’s a scam.
Sure, if you do win a lottery, a part of your winnings will be deducted as tax at the source. But you’ll never be asked for an upfront payment.
Scam 6 – Data Theft or Extortion
Remember the “ransomware” threats from a couple of years ago?
Here’s what happened.
People logged on to their laptops or PCs to find all their files mysteriously locked (encrypted) by the scammers.
The scammers then asked the victims to decrypt their files by purchasing an “unlocker” online or by directly transferring money to specific accounts to receive access to their files.
While this issue isn’t reported as frequently now, some unsuspecting person or the other keeps getting scammed in this way.
So it’s always a good idea to stay aware and take precautions to protect your personal and financial data.
How to Avoid
The best thing to do in this case is to avoid all communications with the scammers.
There’s no guarantee that you’ll get access to your files once you do purchase the “unlocker.”
Keep an up-to-date anti-virus on your computer.
Maintaining a hardened cloud backup of your important files, is the only sure way to avoid potentially not being able to access files.
Scam 7 – Cash App Scams
Apps like the Cash App, Venmo, Zelle, Square Cash, PayPal, Google Pay, Apple Pay, Square Cash, and Facebook Messenger are a super convenient way to pay family and friends (often instantaneously) for smaller things like a restaurant bill, fuel, shared rent with a roomy… you get the picture.
Basically all those little things that you would have used cash, now done often through your phone.
There is a big problem though.
All these apps are designed to be super convenient to use, which means you usually don’t need much at all to send money.
They also are designed so that when your money is gone – like cash – it is gone. Usually with very little recourse.
For a scammer that makes you an easy target.
For example, in one scam (shown in the video below) the scammer uses social media to connect with you. To build your trust, the scammer sends you money in return for you sending a smaller amount. This can be do through a cash app or fake wire transfer. As the scammer builds trust the amounts get higher, until finally, no money is returned.
How to Avoid
Just remembering that when you use a Cash App it is just like cash which makes it a target for scammers.
Only send money to people you know in person and have verified they need the money. (Avoid unexpected emails and text links because your friend or associate my have been hacked)
How to Keep Your Data and Money Safe
Generally if you are 100% sure of the details of who you are sending the money to and use a well known, and reputable service the chances of being scammed are far lower.
They are licensed
All reputable money transfer services (for example, TransferWise, World Remit, Remitly, Western Union, XE, TorFX, OFX etc.) are licensed financial service providers in all the regions they operate and regulated by local authorities.
This means they have to adhere to the same regulations high street banks need to follow while handling your money.
And, if you’re sending large amounts ($7000 USD/$9000 CAD/ $9500 AUD/ €5800 EUR/ £5300 GBP and above), it’s always a good idea to double check that the currency transfer company you’ve chosen is registered in your country.
They require you to verify your identity (upon sign up or if you’re sending a large sum)
This makes sure that the users that transact on their platform are indeed staying within the scope of service offered by the currency transfer company (personal transfers only or both personal and business transfers) and to avoid duplicate accounts that can be used for financial crimes such as scams and money laundering.
Currency transfer companies also conduct regular audits and may ask you to provide additional information for a transfer if it raises a red flag (for example, unusually large amount, exotic currency, etc.).
These audits are conducted to protect your money, the goodwill of your account, as well as other users on the platform.
All registered and licensed currency transfer providers keep their website protected with updated security certificates and industry-leading encryption protocols.
These encryption methods also alert if you have malware on your system and whether it’s safe to conduct a financial transaction from the compromised system.
Most money transfer companies have easy-to-use mobile apps to make transfers on the go easier.
But they also make sure these transfers are safe by enabling two-factor authentication on the mobile apps and website – this means if you don’t approve a transfer, it doesn’t go through.
Never ask for sensitive information
Reputable money transfer companies will never call or email you and ask about sensitive financial information such as your bank customer ID, debit or credit card PIN, debit or credit card CVV, etc.
While online money transfer companies have a robust set of checks and balances, it’s ultimately your best judgement that can keep your personal data, sensitive financial information, and your money safe.
Scammers are sneaky, but you can outsmart them if you know their game.
So make sure you do your due diligence before you send money to a stranger, pay up for a too-good-to-be-true deal, or double check with your friends and family in case of emergencies.
Happy and Safe Transfers!