Money Wiring Scams
Scam artists use a number of elaborate schemes to get your money, and many involve money transfers through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram. Money transfers may be useful when you want to send funds to someone you know and trust, but theyï¿½re completely inappropriate when youï¿½re dealing with a stranger.
Why do scammers pressure consumers to use money transfers? So they can get their hands on the legitimate money before their victims realize theyï¿½ve been cheated. Once the money has been picked up, there is no way you can reverse the transaction or trace the money. Additionally, when you wire money to another country, the recipient can pick it up at multiple locations, making it nearly impossible to identify them or track them down. In some cases, the receiving agents of the money transfer company might be an accomplice in the fraud. Money transfers are virtually the same as sending cash and there are no protections for the sender.
Many money transfer scams involve dramatic or convincing stories that play on your optimistic nature, your selflessness or your thriftiness. But no matter how you construe it, they always cost you money. Here are some scams involving money transfers that you may recognize.
Grandparent Scams. ï¿½Grandpa, do you know who this is?ï¿½ Grandpa not wanting to admit he doesnï¿½t recognize his grandchild says a name of one of them.ï¿½Now the scammer has the information he needs to continue with the scam.ï¿½The scammer appears to be in great distress and tells grandpa ï¿½Iï¿½m in jail and need bail money. Please go the Western Union office and send me $2000.00 right away!ï¿½ And please donï¿½t tell my parents: theyï¿½ll be so disappointed!ï¿½
Scam calls such as this use several reasons for the grandparent to wire money such as needing funds to repair a car, pay a fine, or for getting out of trouble in a foreign country. These scammers are banking on your love and concern to outweigh your skepticism. They swear you to secrecy and play on your emotions, in hopes that youï¿½ll wire the money right away. Once the money is picked up, you canï¿½t trace it or get it back. Imposters encourage using money wire services so they can get your hard earned money before you realize youï¿½ve been scammed.
Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams. The letter says you just won a lottery. All you have to do is deposit the enclosed cashierï¿½s check and wire money for ï¿½taxesï¿½ and ï¿½fees.ï¿½ Regardless of how legitimate the check looks, itï¿½s no good. When it bounces, youï¿½ll be responsible for the money you sent. Refer to the Sweepstakes Scams section of this handbook for more information.
Overpayment Scams. Someone answers the ad you placed to sell something and offers to use a cashierï¿½s check, personal check or corporate check to pay for it. But at the last minute, the buyer (or a related third party) comes up with a reason to write the check for more than the purchase price, asking you to wire back the difference. The fake check might fool bank tellers, but it will eventually bounce, and youï¿½ll have to cover it.
Relationship Scams. You meet someone on a dating site and things get serious. You send messages, talk on the phone, trade pictures, and even make marriage plans. Soon you find out heï¿½s going to Nigeria or another country for work. Once heï¿½s there, he needs your help: can you wire money to help? The first transfer may be small, but itï¿½s followed by requests for more ï¿½ to help him get money the government owes him, to cover costs for a sudden illness or surgery for a son or daughter, to pay for a plane ticket back to the U.S. ï¿½ always with the promise to pay you back. You might get documents or calls from lawyers as ï¿½proof.ï¿½ But as real as the relationship seems, itï¿½s a scam. You will have lost any money you wired, and the person you thought you knew so well will be gone with it.
Mystery Shopper Scams. Youï¿½re hired to be a mystery shopper and asked to evaluate the customer service of a money transfer company. You get a check to deposit in your bank account and instructions to withdraw a certain amount in cash and wire it to another country, using the service. When the counterfeit check is uncovered, youï¿½re on the hook for the money.
Online Purchase Scams. Youï¿½re buying something online and the seller insists on a money transfer as the only form of payment thatï¿½s acceptable. Ask to use a credit card, an escrow service or another way to pay. If you pay by credit or charge card online, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Insisting on a money transfer is a signal that you wonï¿½t get the item ï¿½ or your money back.
Apartment Rental Scams. In your search for an apartment or vacation rental, you find a great prospect at a great price. It can be yours if you wire money ï¿½ for an application fee, security deposit and/or the first monthï¿½s rent. Once youï¿½ve wired the money, itï¿½s gone, and you learn there is no rental. A scammer hijacked a real rental listing by changing the contact information and placing the altered ad on other sites. Or, they made up a listing for a place that isnï¿½t for rent or doesnï¿½t exist, using below-market rent to lure you in. If youï¿½re the one doing the renting, watch out for the reverse: a potential renter will say they want to cancel their deposit and ask you to wire the money back ï¿½ before you realize the check was a fake.
Advance Fee Loans Scams. You see an ad or website ï¿½ or get a call from a telemarketer ï¿½ that guarantees a loan or a credit card regardless of your credit history. When you apply, you find out you have to pay a fee in advance. If you have to wire money for the promise of a loan or credit card, youï¿½re dealing with a scam artist: there is no loan or credit card.
Family Emergency or Friend-in-Need Scams. You get a call or email out of the blue from someone claiming to be a family member or friend who says he needs you to wire cash to help him out of a jam ï¿½ to fix a car, get out of jail or the hospital or leave a foreign country. But they donï¿½t want you to tell anyone in the family. Unfortunately, itï¿½s likely to be a scammer using a relativeï¿½s name. Check the story out with other people in your family. You also can ask the caller some questions about the family that a stranger couldnï¿½t possibly answer.
Hacked or "Hijacked" Email Scams. You get a flood of messages from friends and family. Theyï¿½re getting emails from you with seemingly random links, or messages with urgent pleas to wire you money. It looks like your email or social media account might have been taken over. What do you do? For starters, make sure your security protections are up-to-date, reset your password, and warn your friends (A quick email letting your friends know they might have gotten a malicious link or a fake plea for help can keep them from sending money they wonï¿½t get back or installing malware on their computers). Also, check the advice your email provider or social networking site has about restoring your account. If your account has been taken over, you might need to fill out forms to prove itï¿½s really you trying to get back into your account.