Scammers pressure you to wire money to them because it's easy to take your money and disappear. Wiring money is like sending cash—once it's gone, you probably can't get it back. Never wire money to a stranger—no matter the reason they give.
Why Scammers Want You to Wire Money
If you need to send money to someone you know and trust, wiring money through your bank or credit union can be a useful way to get money there quickly. But scammers also find wire transfers useful.
Scammers know that
- once you wire money to them, there's usually no way to get your money back
- if you wire through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram, they can pick up your money at any of the wire transfer company's locations
- it's nearly impossible to identify who picked up the money, or track them down
Never wire money to anyone
- you haven't met in person
- who says they work at a government agency like the IRS, SSA, or a well-known company
- who pressures you into paying immediately
- who says a wire transfer is the only way you can pay
Also don't wire money to someone who tries to sell you something over the phone. Not only will you not have the same protections you would paying with a credit card, but it's illegal for a telemarketer to ask you to pay with a wire transfer. Report them if they ask you to pay this way.
Spot the Scam
Here are some common ways scammers try to convince people to wire money:
Fake Check Scams
Someone sends you a check and tells you to deposit it. They tell you to wire some or all of the money back to them—or to another person. The money appears in your bank account, so you do it. But the check is fake. It can take weeks for the bank to figure it out, but when it does, the bank will want you to repay the money you withdrew.
Scammers make up lots of stories to try to convince you to deposit a check and wire money:
- Scammers say you've won a prize and need to wire money back to cover taxes and fees.
- Scammers say it's part of a mystery shopping assignment to evaluate a wire transfer service.
- Scammers say you got a job you applied for, send you a check to buy supplies, but tell you to wire back part of the money.
The scammer offers a “refund” for a discontinued service or an accidental overcharge that they've paid you. Once you give them access to your banking account, they will make it appear as if they're sending you a refund, but they're actually transferring money from your own accounts. Often, the refund is for much more than promised (e.g., $40,000 instead of $400), so the scammer makes a plea for you to send the extra money back so they don't lose their job.
Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites and apps. They strike up a relationship with you and work to build your trust, sometimes talking or chatting several times a day. Then, they make up a story—like saying they have an emergency—and ask for money. A romance scammer might also contact you through social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, or Google Hangouts.
Family Emergency Scams
You get an unexpected call from someone who pretends to be a friend or relative. They say they need cash for an emergency and beg you to wire money right away. They might say they need your help to get out of jail, pay a hospital bill, or leave a foreign country. They often ask you not to tell anyone in your family. Their goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it's a scam.
Apartment Rental Scams
You respond to an ad for an apartment with surprisingly low rent. Before you've even seen the apartment, you apply and are told to wire money—maybe for an application fee, security deposit, or the first month's rent. After you wire the money, you find out that there is no apartment for rent, or that the scammer put their contact information on someone else's photo or rental ad. A similar scam exists for vacation rentals.
What to Do Before You Send a Wire
If you're being pressed to make a decision or send money fast, it's probably a sign of a scam. Best course of action here is to call your bank or credit union before sending any wire you are not sure of. Especially if the person tells you to lie to your financial institutions.
What to Do If You Wired Money to a Scammer
Can a fraudulent wire transfer be reversed? The short answer is no. Generally, when criminals redirect your funds through these scams, the funds are withdrawn as soon as the wire is received, so it is unlikely that the funds will be recovered.
On some occasions, if you act fast enough, you may be able to contact the bank/ credit union/wire service company and report the fraudulent transfer. Ask if they can reverse the wire transfer and give you your money back.
If a scammer asked you to wire money, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Resources: Federal Trade Commission
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