The 9 Worst Wire Transfer Scams (and How To Avoid Them)

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Hari Ravichandran

CEO and Founder of Aura

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    Can You Get Scammed While Wiring Money? 

    When Aaron Fisher wired over $900,000 to a Wells Fargo account for the down payment on his dream home, he thought he was securing his family’s future [*]. Instead, Aaron got caught up in a nightmare having sent his life savings to fraudsters as part of an elaborate wire transfer scam. 

    Using spoofed email addresses, hackers hijacked an email thread between Aaron and his real estate agent. Then, they sent digital copies of the actual closing documents and wire transfer instructions — but swapped out the money transfer’s destination for their own.

    An estimated $756 million was lost to wire transfer scams in 2021 [*]. And the problem is only growing larger every day as fraudsters create convincing new schemes to steal money from consumers and businesses alike. 

    If you’re dealing with a situation in which you need to wire money, it pays to be extra diligent.

    In this guide, we’ll cover how wire transfer scams work, the warning signs to watch out for, and what to do if you wire funds to a fraudster.  

    What Are Wire Transfer Scams? How Do They Work?

    A wire transfer scam occurs when a con artist poses as a trusted authority — like a bank, colleague, or family member — and convinces victims to send money via electronic bank transfers. 

    Because wire transfers are nearly instantaneous and extremely difficult to reverse, they present a preferred payment method for scammers. By the time victims realize they’ve been scammed, the fraudster is gone — with their money. 

    Here’s how a typical wire transfer scam plays out:

    • Scammers send phishing messages and demand payment via wire transfers. In other scenarios, they infiltrate legitimate conversations online and manipulate valid payment information. 
    • For example, fraudsters could insert themselves in an email conversation between homebuyers, attorneys, and title companies. Or, they could pose as an executive at a company and request changes to the wire transfer destination for a large payment.
    • Everything about the transfer will appear genuine, but the recipient account details will differ. The victim thinks they are making a legitimate transfer but is actually sending money to the scammer.
    • Because of the immediacy of wire transfers, the scammer takes possession of the money almost instantly. After payment has been accepted, it's virtually impossible to get the stolen funds back.
    Take action: If scammers have access to your banking information, they could drain your accounts or take out new loans in your name. Try Aura’s top-rated identity theft protection with credit monitoring free for 14 days to protect your accounts and sensitive information from fraudsters. 

    Can a Wire Transfer Be Reversed?

    The short answer: Not usually. 

    Domestic transfers between accounts at the same bank usually happen within 24 hours. But with the rise of digital banking, wire transfers process almost instantly. 

    Fraudsters can quickly receive the money, move it into another account, and vanish before the victims have time to cancel or reverse the transfer.

    How wire transfers work
    Wire transfers happen almost instantaneously — giving scammers quick access to your money. Source: First Horizon Bank

    You can only reverse a wire transfer if the sending bank notifies the receiving bank of your cancellation request before the receiving bank processes the transfer. Once the receiving bank accepts the funds, you cannot reverse the transaction.

    On international wire transfers, there is a small window of about 30 minutes during which you could potentially recall the funds. However, a reversal is only permitted in specific circumstances:

    • Your bank made an error with the recipient's account number.
    • The recipient received a higher amount of money than you intended to send.
    • It was a duplicate transfer.

    In these cases when the bank is at fault, your bank representatives are more likely to help. But if you made a mistake and seemingly authorized the transfer from your device or number, it's unlikely that the wire transfer can be reversed.

    💡 Related: What Can Someone Do With Your Bank Account Number?

    The 9 Latest Wire Transfer Scams (and How To Spot Them)

    1. Real estate wire fraud (aka mortgage wire fraud)
    2. Overpayment scams on online marketplaces
    3. Advance fee scams for fake loans
    4. “Processing fees” for fraudulent sweepstakes or lottery winnings
    5. Fake check scams 
    6. “Family emergency” scams
    7. Rental apartment and home scams
    8. Tech support scams
    9. Business Email Compromise (BEC)

    Wire transfer scams have made a big comeback in recent years. Here are some examples of scams to watch out for — and what you can do to avoid them.

    1. Real estate wire fraud (aka mortgage wire fraud)

    As the Fisher family found out, real estate fraud is a very real threat. A single real estate scam could net criminals millions of dollars in wealthy neighborhoods like Beverly Hills or Manhattan. 

    Once scammers hack your emails, they can trick you into thinking you’re conversing with your agent or attorney. Jenna Carlson is another victim of this scam — someone impersonated the paralegal at her realtor’s office.

    As the email included all of the correct details, Jenna promptly wired $42,000 to secure her dream home. Soon after, the real paralegal got in touch, and Jenna realized she had been scammed [*]. 

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Discuss the closing process with your real estate agent in person. It's a good idea to agree on a password that trusted parties can use on future phone calls.
    • Beware of last-minute changes. An unexpected email prompting you to make a deposit urgently is a red flag. 
    • Contact your attorney directly to confirm the wire transfer details. Your lender should be able to verify the bank account information without hesitation.

    2. Overpayment scams on online marketplaces

    In this scam, fake buyers claim they accidentally sent too much money via wire transfer and ask you to return the difference. If you do this, the scammers will rescind their initial payment, leaving you out of pocket. 

    Cathy Whitaker listed about 60 items on Facebook Marketplace within two days; and almost instantly, the offers began flowing into her direct message inbox. But when many of the would-be buyers started asking for personal information, Cathy soon realized they weren’t genuine [*].

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Be wary of buyers who offer more than the asking price, or anyone who quickly sends you more money than agreed.
    • Check email addresses carefully. Scammers use fake email addresses with minor tweaks to trick people into thinking they are communicating with real companies.
    • Take your time. You should never feel rushed when making wire transfers, especially by someone you don’t know. If it doesn’t feel right, trust your intuition. 

    💡 Related: 9 Ways To Avoid Getting Scammed on Craigslist

    3. Advance fee scams for fake loans

    In 2022, a Virginia Beach couple was found guilty of running a loan scam that defrauded nearly 1,700 owners. Ronald A. Smith and his wife offered people assistance with their loan applications in exchange for advance fees — often via wire transfers [*]. 

    When people need money to help with their mortgage payments, auto repairs, or credit card debt, scammers can lure victims into traps with promises of “guaranteed loans.”

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Ignore ads that claim to offer credit regardless of your credit history. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.
    • Never pay any upfront fees for a loan. Scammers might tell you that your loan is approved; but if they want you to first pay fees for "insurance" or "processing," you should end all contact.
    • Hang up on robocalls immediately. Automated phone calls with recorded sales pitches are illegal. No genuine lender will use this service to cold call prospective clients.
    Take action: If scammers have your financial information, they could empty your bank account or take loans out in your name. Try Aura’s #1-rated identity theft protection free for 14 days and secure your finances from fraudsters. 

    4. “Processing fees” for fraudulent sweepstakes or lottery winnings

    Have you ever gotten an email or letter saying you won a lottery or sweepstakes prize — like a new car or all-expense-paid holiday? While most people know these offers are scams, others unwittingly get in touch with the sender — opening the door to fraudsters who try to steal money and financial details.

    If you pay, you'll lose money and receive nothing. Worse still, you could also expose your personal information, making you a target for other scams or identity theft

    Wire fraud smishing scam message
    Scammers ask for personal information and payments before releasing your “prize.” Source: Reddit

    Damone D. Oakley targeted older adults with wire transfer fraud related to a phony sweepstakes scheme. He tricked his victims into paying fees to access their prizes [*]. 

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Don’t share your financial information to “increase your odds of winning.” Real sweepstakes are free, so you should never have to give your credit card number at any point.
    • Never pay to get a prize. If an email or phone call leads to a request for you to pay for a prize, it’s a scam. 
    • End communications with callers if they persist and tell you that a payment is needed to cover taxes or shipping charges.

    💡 Related: How To Spot (and Avoid) Publishers Clearing House Scams

    5. Fake check scams 

    Fake check scams come in different forms. But a recent variation starts with a job offer for a work-from-home position. As part of the contract, your "new employer" will send you a check to deposit and request that you wire some of the money to the sender or one of their associates. 

    Within a few days, the bank will be unable to clear the check. At this point, you’ll be on the hook for the debt, and the scammer — and your new job — will be gone. 

    Miranda Owens deposited a check that her new company claimed was to pay for her office supplies. After Miranda sent the money back, the scammer disappeared. Miranda now owes $5,000 to her bank [*]. 

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Never cash a check to send wire transfers, gift cards, or cryptocurrency to a “new employer” or anybody whom you don’t personally know and trust. 
    • Report any suspicious job offers (that involve depositing checks) to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service by phone at 1-877-876-2455 or online at www.uspis.gov.
    • Submit any counterfeit checks you receive to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at https://reportfraud.ftc.gov.

    💡 Related: What Happens if You Unknowingly Deposit a Fake Check?

    6. “Family emergency” scams

    In this con, you receive an urgent call or text message about a family member in a dramatic situation, like a car accident or medical emergency. 

    The caller may impersonate your loved one or a supposed attorney speaking on your loved one’s behalf. The goal is to make you panic and wire them the money for bail or urgent medical care. This scam is one of the leading tactics for elder fraud

    In November 2022, two people were sentenced in federal court for their involvement in a nationwide grandparent scam. The defendants defrauded 70 elderly victims out of a combined $2 million, convincing many victims to send money via wire transfers [*]. 

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Agree on a passphrase that everyone must use if family members (or friends or colleagues) are ever in a bad situation in which they need to call for help or money. It’s best to have this conversation offline and not share the passphrase via email, text, or social media messages.
    • Resist the urge to act impulsively, even if it sounds like a family member is distressed. Ask the caller questions that only your loved one would be able to  answer. 
    • If you get a call about a family member or friend in trouble, take a moment to verify the claims with other people. If the caller insists that you shouldn’t speak to anyone else, it’s a scam.

    💡 Related: Family Identity Theft — The Parental Guide for 2022

    7. Rental apartment and home scams

    In July, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned about the rising risk of wire transfer scams involving rental properties. Fraudsters post fake rental listings of real properties along with their contact details. When people get in touch, the thieves convince prospective tenants to wire money before visiting the property. 

    An Idaho man relocating for work lost $20,000 to a scammer after sending a year’s rent upfront. The victim only realized the truth after he visited the address and met the actual owner, who told him that the property was never for rent [*]. 

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Don’t wire money for a house until you have visited the property and met the owner or real estate agent in person.
    • Conduct due diligence on the owner and agent by searching public records about  the property and any related companies. Even a basic Google search of the address can tell you whether it’s for sale or has been listed for rent on other websites. 
    • Beware of any potential landlords that claim they are out of town and need you to wire the money in advance to a foreign account. This is almost always a scam.

    💡 Related: The 6 Latest Rental Scams (and How To Avoid Them)

    8. Tech support scams

    In tech support scams, fraudsters cold call or text people and impersonate support staff from reputable tech companies, such as Microsoft. The fraudulent callers claim there are issues with your computer and demand payment to fix it.

    Cybercriminals often target vulnerable people who aren’t tech-savvy, like Phyllis Weisberg. The 90-year-old widow thought she was getting help from customer support, but scammers bilked her for $20,000 [*]. 

    Tech support scam popup
    Tech support scammers often use pop-ups to scare you into calling for unsolicited help. Source: USA Today 

    In 2021, the FBI revealed that 23,903 people reported losses to tech support scams, costing victims a combined $347 million [*]. 

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Remember that legitimate tech companies won't make unsolicited contact about an issue with your computer. If you get an unexpected email or call like this, it's a scam.
    • Ignore any pop-up warnings that alert you to security issues and instruct you to call a phone number. If you see suspicious pop-ups on your device, run a scan for malware to find out if hackers have access to your computer
    • Contact trusted software companies directly via their websites or by phone when you have computer issues. 
    Proactively protect yourself from scammers and identity thieves. Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution includes powerful antivirus software, Safe Browsing tools, and a military-grade virtual private network (VPN). Try Aura free for 14 days and secure your devices against hackers. 

    9. Business Email Compromise (BEC)

    Business Email Compromise (BEC) is a phishing scam in which scammers trick people at companies into either sharing confidential information or making wire transfers to fraudulent accounts. By impersonating a trusted figure, like the CEO, the scammer uses urgency and perceived authority to pressure victims into making quick transactions. 

    Wire transfer phishing scam targeting businesses
    Example of a wire transfer scam targeting businesses. Source: PhishMe

    In August 2022, three Nigerian men were charged for their roles in a BEC fraud scheme that stole over $5 million from victims. Purporting to be a construction company, the culprits created a duplicate website and fake email addresses to con universities into making wire transfers [*]. 

    Don’t get scammed! Do this:

    • Make wet signatures (via pen and paper) mandatory to verify bank account information before any wire transfers can be processed. 
    • Insist that all employees must communicate verbally before sending an email requesting a wire transfer. Nobody should process payment until confirming the transaction in person or with a phone call.
    • Request that your financial institution contact you to confirm the details before processing any transactions.

    Did You Wire Money to a Scammer? Do this!

    If you think you've already fallen prey to a wire transfer scam, act quickly.

    Here’s how you can try to get your money back — or at the very least, limit the damage:

    1. Immediately call your bank or the wire transfer company 

    Tell the bank or company that you were the victim of a fraudulent transaction, and request a recall. The bank will need full details about the transfer to initiate this request. 

    2. Ask your bank to contact the receiving bank 

    The recipient bank's fraud department may be able to freeze the funds in the recipient's account. If the scammers have already moved the funds, your bank can help you follow the trail. Take note of the other banks involved, and lodge requests at each one to freeze the funds.

    3. Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 

    The FTC provides an official report as well as fraud recovery support. You can make the report online at reportfraud.ftc.gov by providing the following details:

    • Your full legal name
    • Date of birth
    • Social Security Number (SSN)
    • Driver's license number
    • Current address and how long you've lived there
    • Phone number
    • Email address

    If you also believe the scammers have your personal information, you can file an official identity theft report at IdentityTheft.gov.

    4. File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

    You can help authorities investigate by sharing details of wire transfer scams — including screenshots of emails, spam texts, or links to bogus websites. The FBI will give you an IC3 Complaint Number.

    5. Contact your local police department or FBI field office 

    You can find your local FBI field office through this link.

    Ask to speak to the agent in charge of processing financial crimes or cybercrimes. When you make the report, share the IC3 Complaint Number and your contact information.

    💡 Related: What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed Online & How To Report It

    The Warning Signs of Wire Transfer Scams

    Wire fraud is easy to avoid if you know the red flags. Never wire money in the following situations:

    • You receive an unexpected request to send money.
    • Someone asks you to wire money to another country.
    • Someone says you’ve won a prize for which you need to pay a fee.
    • Someone sends you checks in exchange for a return payment.
    • The person asking for payment refuses to speak on the phone.
    • The person urges you to send money quickly without telling anyone else.
    • The person insists on payment via P2P apps, gift cards, or cryptocurrency.
    • The person asking for payment is using a suspicious-looking email address.
    • The person asking for payment communicates via TTY (teletypewriter), which masks their voice.

    💡 Related: How To Prevent Phishing Attacks (15 Easy Tips)

    The Bottom Line: Protect Your Funds From Fraudsters

    If you send money to a scammer, you have a small window of time during which you can reverse the wire transfer. However, there’s no guarantee that you can get your money back. 

    From phishing emails and spam texts to hackers and convincing impersonators, the internet poses grave threats to your financial security. It’s crucial that you take a proactive approach to digital security. 

    Safeguard your personal information online, scan your devices regularly with antivirus software, and always use a virtual private network (VPN) when browsing on public Wi-Fi.

    For added security and peace of mind, consider signing up for Aura’s #1-rated digital security solution.

    With Aura, you get: 

    • Top-rated identity theft protection that scans online sites, public records, Dark Web forums, data breaches, and more for your personal information.  
    • 24/7 credit monitoring with instant credit lock to protect your financial accounts from scammers. Aura’s fraud alerts are up to 4x faster than competitors.
    • Antivirus software and a military-grade VPN to let you browse confidently, and safely access your email and online banking accounts.
    • A password manager that enables you to create and store unique, complex passwords for every account.
    • $1,000,000 insurance policy to cover eligible losses, such as stolen funds or credit cards.
    Keep your finances secure against scammers. Try Aura free for 14 days

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers