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7 Money Transfer Scams and How to Avoid Them in 2024

7 Money Transfer Scams and How to Avoid Them in 2024

December 29, 2023 11 min read

The ability to easily send money all around the world offers a whole host of benefits. For migrants working abroad, it allows them to safely and affordably support loved ones back home. For students studying overseas, it gives family members a convenient way to ensure they’ve got the resources they need to pay for their education. And for travelers, international money transfers provide a simple solution to ensure that, no matter where their adventures lead, they’ve got cash waiting for them at their destination. 

Unfortunately, there is another group of people who attempt to make use of money transfer services when the opportunity presents itself: scammers. Criminals attempt to manipulate unsuspecting people into sending them money under false pretenses, leveraging the victim’s ignorance, compassion, or fear as a weapon against them. And though it may seem hard to believe, their efforts can often prove shockingly effective: consumers in the U.S. alone reported losing as much as $2.6 billion in 2022 to scammers pretending to be someone else, according to the FTC

At Ria Money Transfer, we take the safety of your money very seriously. We have a team of expert fraud analysts and compliance professionals working tirelessly to stop scams before they succeed. Our high compliance standards compel us to ensure that we clearly understand who is sending and receiving money through our network. Our staff and agents receive rigorous, ongoing training to spot and prevent cases of fraud at the point of sale. 

Still, the best way for you to protect yourself from scammers is to be aware of the most common tricks they use to deceive people into sending them money. That’s why we’re diving into seven of the most common money transfer scams and looking at the steps you can take to avoid falling for them. 

Family Emergency Scams 

These scams feature a malicious actor pretending to be a family member, close friend, or an authority figure like a police officer or lawyer speaking on a family member’s behalf. They’ll say that someone you care about is in an emergency and needs help right away – they may pretend the person has been arrested, kidnapped, injured, or is stuck in a foreign country. 

They may appear to know quite a bit about both the target of the scam and the family member they are pretending to be, but often this is simply what they are able to glean from publicly available sources like social media accounts. They may also use manipulation to get the victim to reveal information without realizing it. Recent advances in artificial intelligence have even given scammers the ability to digitally recreate a loved one’s voice using samples found online, adding even more believability to their lies. 

By insisting that the victim’s loved one needs help immediately, the scammer seeks to use urgency to create panic and prevent the victim from thinking clearly about the situation. They may even contrive a reason that the situation must be kept secret from other family members and from the police.  

Invariably, however, the scammer will try to convince their target to send them a money transfer, cryptocurrency, or even a gift card to help get them out of the feigned urgent situation, supposedly to pay a hospital bill, a ransom, bail, or something similar. 

If you receive an unexpected call from someone claiming to be a loved one in trouble, especially if it comes from a phone number you don’t recognize, resist the scammer’s pressure to act right away without thinking. If possible, hang up and call the loved one back right away on a phone number you are sure belongs to them. If you’re not comfortable hanging up, try asking them a question only the real person would know the answer to, such as, “where were we the last time we saw each other?” or “what did you give me for my birthday?”. 

Phishing Scams 

Phishing refers to online scammers attempting to trick unsuspecting users into revealing sensitive information such as passwords, account numbers, and contact information. One common way of doing this is creating emails, text messages, or websites that claim to be from a trusted source, such as a bank, online retailer, or even a money transfer company like us. By clicking on links embedded in these messages or entering login credentials into fake web pages, scammers can steal important information or install malicious software on the victim’s device. 

The best way to avoid falling victim to phishing attempts is to avoid clicking on any link in a message from a company or institution that you didn’t expect to receive. If, for example, an unexpected email supposedly from your bank claims that you need to click on a link to solve some urgent problem, resist the urge to click and instead go directly to your bank’s website using your web browser to log in to your account as you normally would. Once logged in, you should be able to easily see if the apparently urgent situation is real or not.  

Be on the lookout as well for misspelled or unusual URLs; these may be a giveaway that the destination of a link is not what it claims to be. For example, if the website of your bank is yourbank.com, pay close attention to avoid visiting links that are designed to appear as though they lead to your bank’s website but instead lead to youbank.com, yourbank.net, yourbank.scam.com, or anything other than the URL you’ve already confirmed to be correct. 

CEO Scam 

These scams are a targeted form of phishing. A scammer pretends to be someone in a position of authority in the victim’s workplace like the CEO, President, or a senior executive and demands that the recipient provide sensitive information such as company data or login credentials. Often, scammers attempting this type of fraud are using publicly available information to find people in the company that the victim might hesitate to refuse or make wait for information. Criminals may even use a technique called “email spoofing” to make it appear as though the message has come from the executive’s actual email address. 

If you receive a message from someone at your company that you don’t normally interact with directly or that seems otherwise out of character, it’s best to confirm that the message is authentic using another form of communication, such as a face-to-face conversation or a phone call. Even if you might hesitate to reach out to the person directly, asking them for a few moments of their time is always preferable to inadvertently putting company information at risk. 

Tech Support Scams 

Tech support scammers call unsuspecting victims, often pretending to be from a well-known company such as Apple, Microsoft, or Google. Alternately, they may post ads online offering tech support with a phone number for interested customers to call. Criminals attempting this type of scam may target people that they believe will not be especially tech-savvy, such as older people or those with low levels of literacy. 

Once on the phone, they insist that they’ve found a serious problem with your computer and offer to help by connecting remotely to solve the problem. The scammer will then use their access to the victim’s computer to steal valuable information like passwords or account numbers, or else demand payment for having “fixed” the non-existent problem. They may threaten to cause damage to the victim’s computer or hold it to ransom if the payment is not made. 

If you receive an unexpected call from someone claiming that they’ve detected a problem with your computer, hang up immediately without giving them more information. If you need to seek technical assistance from a qualified professional, be sure to do your own research and find a reputable provider with sound references for past service. 

Extortion Scams 

These scams are commonly seen on social media sites and dating apps. The scammer claims that they’ve gotten access to sensitive information such as photographs, videos, emails, or text messages, with which they want to blackmail the victim. They may alternately claim to be a lawyer or government official and say that the victim owes an unexpected debt. No matter the story, the demand is always the same – that the victim send them money or they will use the power at their disposal to shame or harm them in some way. 

In the majority of cases, the scammer’s claim to have compromising or embarrassing pictures or videos of the victim is completely fabricated. Scammers send messages like these to as many people as possible hoping that a small percentage will believe the blackmail is real. The best course of action is to delete the scammer’s message without clicking any links or opening any attachments. 

Criminals attempting this type of scam may sometime try to prove they really do have access to the target’s information, for example, by including a password the victim uses for a particular website. These passwords are often gained through phishing or from data breaches of said website. If you recognize a password in a scammer’s email as one you are currently using anywhere online, be sure to change it immediately

Dating App Romance Scams  

Scammers build fake profiles on dating websites and use false personas to attract the attention of potential targets. By engaging the victim in back-and-forth conversation, sometimes over an extended length of time, they establish a connection and a familiarity with their target. Despite engaging in extended and sometimes intimate exchanges, they’ll always be careful to invent excuses to avoid meeting in person. 

Eventually, when they feel that they’ve built up enough trust, they will invent a story that explains a sudden need for cash – an unexpected bill, a sick family member, an emergency airplane ticket, or something similar – and pressure the victim to “help them” by sending money

It’s relatively easy to spot a fake profile used for romance scams if you know what signs to watch out for. Common signs include the person seeming “too good to be true” in their photos and description, claiming to be always traveling or living overseas, and consistently avoiding efforts to meet in person or speak on the phone. If someone on a dating app that you have not met in person is asking you for money for any reason, your best bet is simply to block them and move on

Immigration Scams 

Scammers often aim their criminal intent at people they perceive as vulnerable to pressure and coercion because of their personal situations. For that reason, some target migrants, especially those without a fully documented status, because the scammer believes they may be less familiar with the typical way of doing things in their host country or simply be afraid of causing trouble if they do not comply with the scammer’s demands. 

Sometimes, the scammer might impersonate a government official and accuse the victim of owing money for something related to their immigration process and threaten them with consequences including arrest or deportation if the debt is not paid. In other cases, the scammer pretends to represent an organization that offers to help people migrate to another country or access services in their new home for a fee. 

It is important to remember that government representatives will not contact you about your immigration status or procedures through any means besides official channels. This includes social media and text messages. If someone claims to have information or needs money related to your immigration, be sure to contact the relevant agency through an official email address or phone number to confirm. You can learn more about immigration scams and how to avoid them on the website for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement

How to Identify Money Transfer Scams 

Scammers excel at manipulation and deceit, but there are often a few telltale signs that can help you tell the difference between an authentic interaction and attempted fraud. 

Messages from scammers often contain unprofessional language, spelling and grammatical mistakes, and unusual formatting errors. If something seems a bit “off” about an email claiming to be from a large company or trusted institution, it’s usually a good idea to trust your instincts and confirm any relevant information by other means. 

Scammers often create a false sense of urgency, hoping that pressure to act quickly will stop you from thinking carefully about what you are doing. Be wary of any request for money or information that comes unexpectedly and with a tight deadline. 

Criminals looking to commit fraud can piece together quite a bit of information using publicly available sources, but if you’re suspicious that someone may not be who they claim to be, it shouldn’t be hard to catch them in the act. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that only the real person or institution would know the answer to.  

Take a close look at the email address and phone number that people use to contact you. Anything that seems unusual could be a sign of a potential scam. For example, an email from your bank should likely come from an email address with a format like “name@yourbank.com”, rather than something easy to fake like “yourbank@gmail.com”. 

How to Avoid Money Transfer Scams 

Avoiding money transfer scams is often simply a matter of taking the time to confirm information before going through with a transaction. Always be sure that you know who it is that you are sending money to and why. Where possible, confirm details sent by email with a phone call and vice versa. 

Always be sure to communicate directly with friends and family through trusted sources like known phone numbers and email addresses. A call from an unfamiliar number claiming to be someone you know is reason enough to be suspicious – always follow up by another means before sending money to whoever is on the other end of the line. 

Finally, using a trusted money transfer provider like Ria can also help keep you safe from scams. Our staff are trained to spot signs of fraud and take action to prevent you from falling victim to this type of crime. If you’re concerned about a transaction you’ve made or are thinking about making, reach out to our customer service team for help answering any questions you might have.  

Ready to start sending money safely? Download the Ria Money Transfer app for iOS and Android today! 

For more info: comms@riamoneytransfer.com

About the author

Eloisa Armini

A Rome-native communication and marketing professional, Eloisa Armini has an extensive background in the nonprofit, financial, and education sectors, and focuses on writing about Corporate Social Responsibility and financial education.

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