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From obvious to very cunning schemes: how scammers in the USA swindle money from us

Every year, millions of people fall victim to money transfer scams. Edition Finder told what to pay attention to so that your money is safe.

Photo: IStock

The most common money transfer scams always involve at least one of:

  • a request from a person you have never seen - someone is in crisis and a money order is the only acceptable form of assistance;
  • paying money to get more money back.

Type of fraud, what to look for and what to do:

  • Venmo scam - someone "accidentally" sends you money through Venmo, Cash App, Zelle, and similar apps; do not return your money, ask the sender to cancel the transaction;
  • online purchases - ask for money in advance; do not pay up front, ask to meet or arrange payment after;
  • lottery and draws - you need to pay a commission to get your prize; ignore these messages, you won't get anything;
  • “get out of jail” - a person who claims to be your acquaintance asks you to transfer money on bail; never send a money transfer until you confirm that you know the recipient;
  • "guaranteed" loans - request for payment before obtaining a loan; you will not receive money, do not send anything;
  • phishing - requesting personal data by e-mail (bank accounts, passwords, SSN); do not reply or click on links, forward email to spam@uce.gov;
  • fake checks - receiving a check payment with a request to transfer the difference back to the sender; take it to your bank to check if it is real or fake;
  • mystery shopper - they sent you a check along with a welcome letter and asked you to send the money order back; do not cash out the money transfer, ignore this offer;
  • charitable activities - requests for donations from a fake charitable organization posing as a real one; never confirm such transfers;
  • large inheritance or winnings - someone contacts you to hand over a large amount of money and needs your bank account information to help pay the fees; never give out your financial information;
  • stranded traveler - a familiar person claims to be in trouble and asks you to send cash; never send a money transfer until you confirm that you know the recipient;
  • online dating - often scammers meet someone on the Internet, and after you feel connected, they will ask you to transfer money; Never send money to someone you haven't seen in person.

More about each type of fraud

"Random" money transfer

You receive a transfer through Venmo, Cash App, Zelle, PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Pay, or a similar service from someone you don't know. The amount of this transfer may vary, but will likely be in the hundreds of dollars. After the transfer, you will receive a message that it was sent by accident and the sender will ask you to return the money. You want to do the right thing, so you give them back a "random" amount of the transfer, only to find out later that you never received the transfer in the first place, and now you've lost several hundred dollars or more.

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What to do: do not return the money. Chances are the original transfer they sent you was paid for with a stolen credit card and it will cancel itself. Instead, ask the user who "accidentally" sent you money to cancel the transaction on their part, or ask them to contact the platform directly for help.

Online shopping fraud

You have found the apartment of your dreams, but you are asked to pay an advance payment for the first month. Or there are taxes that you need to take care of in the first place by money transfer. Your car search may have paid off with an incredible deal, but there are application fees that you need to cover with a bank transfer. While many online stores are legitimate, scammers use your online anonymity to rob you. This includes asking for money even before you have received the item. Before you know it, they will be gone - along with your money.

What to do: be wary of anyone on the internet who tells you they need upfront deposits or payments, especially if you haven't met them yet and don't have a contract. And if someone on the internet says you can only pay by bank transfer or money order, find another seller.

Scams with lotteries and sweepstakes

What a luck! You have received an email stating that you have won a prize. Or maybe you've been contacted about a lottery you've won. It's a lot of money, and there's only one catch: you first need to pay a commission or cover taxes to get it. The amount is small, about $1000. Sure, it's worth it to get what you're owed, but no!

What to do: you never have to pay up front to claim a prize or win a lottery. This alone should be cause for concern. But if you're interested, research the organization or company you received the letter from to see what others have to say. If this sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Scam "get out of jail"

The email or phone call could be from someone claiming to be an acquaintance of yours, or from someone claiming to be a lawyer or a police officer who is calling on behalf of your acquaintance. This person will require you to transfer money for bail.

What to do: never send money without verifying the identity of the recipient. If you are concerned that you may leave someone to their fate, find out the details of where your acquaintance is allegedly being held, and then try to contact the person through friends, family members and check the contact information you had before the call.

Scams with "guaranteed" loans

You receive a letter stating that you are guaranteed a loan or credit card approval. There is only one last task before you can get it: transfer application money or taxes.

What to do: you never have to send money to get a genuine credit card or loan. Instead of sending money, research the company that sent you the email. You are more likely to find warnings from others about scams.

Phishing adventures

You open your computer and receive an email from your bank asking you to verify your account number. Or it could be an online store that needs to verify your password. Sometimes it's a link from the email service provider itself asking you to click and double-check your details.

What to do: do not be scammed by giving out any personal information. Keep in mind that a legitimate bank, merchant, or other service provider will never send you an email asking you to verify your personal information, financial details, or password. This is called "phishing" and you should not reply to or click on any links in the email - instead just forward it to the FTC's dedicated email address spam@uce.gov.

Fake check tricks

Just because you're an online seller doesn't mean you're safe from scammers. You may have received a check for more than the value of your item, with a simple request to refund the difference. The check is most likely counterfeit, so you will have to pay both the money you transfer and the return fee.

What to do: if you receive a check, do not cash it. Take it to your bank or authorities for verification.

Mystery shopper scams

You may be contacted about an exciting new job: becoming a mystery shopper at a local retail chain. A money order will be sent to you along with the welcome letter, but only the amount is more than it should be. When you contact the number on your email, you are told to go and cash it out and then just send a money order for the excess. Better yet, send a bank transfer to get the money back to the company faster.

What to do: this is another variant of fake check scam. Do not cash out a money order. And better lose that fake company number instead of losing your hard earned money.

Charity swindle

Disasters bring out the best in people. But along with this, scammers who prey on altruists are becoming more active. Be wary of emails asking for cash or bank transfer donations to cover expenses.

What to do: research information about charities, such as the Charity Navigator website. Since some scammers use names that are very similar to well-known and reputable organizations, do a Google search for the exact name in your email. And never transfer money to anyone claiming to be charitable. It is best to pay by check or credit card.

Inheritance scam

While this is the butt of many jokes, the "wealthy relative" scam is even more successful today than it was a decade or two ago. The crooks contact you and promise you a large amount of money. They claim that if you help them by providing your bank account information or money to pay fees, you will be rewarded.

What to do: this is just another prepaid scam. Never give out your financial information or send money to anyone you don't know.

Tricks with the "stranded traveler"

This includes an email from friends who frequently travel abroad who are in trouble and need an immediate money transfer to get back home. The amount is almost always around $1000, and it might even look like the transfer request came from a friend's real email address. Except it's not really your friend - his account was phishing hacked.

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What to do: be wary of any email from a friend in trouble abroad. Try to connect with them or confirm their location on a social network. As with other types of fraud, never transfer money without being sure you know the recipient.

Internet theft

Another tricky and therefore popular fraudulent method is related to someone you met on the Internet through a dating app. Often this person wants to immediately leave the site for more intimate personal communication. He may claim to be working abroad and plans to come soon. For a while, you begin to believe that there is a strong connection. And then this person asks you to transfer some money.

What to do: Don't send money to anyone you don't know. You can ask for a face-to-face meeting, even if it seems impossible - refusal will be a clear sign that the person is not who they say they are. If you received a photo via email, consider using a reverse photo search to see if you can confirm the name you were given. This person may have many names attached to the photo. Again, this is a clear sign that you are dealing with a scammer.

How to protect yourself from thieves

To avoid becoming a victim of bank transfer fraud, follow a few basic principles:

  • never transfer money to strangers;
  • pay for services with a credit card - in this case, you will have the opportunity to ask for help if something goes wrong;
  • be careful with spam email. Your email, financial and other service providers will never send you emails to verify personal information or passwords;
  • check the information - scammers take pressure and haste. Slow down - a quick internet search can often confirm your suspicions.

What to do if you become a victim of scammers

If you suspect that you have been the victim of a money transfer scam:

  • call the local police. Write a statement to the police for the amount that was stolen from you;
  • file a complaint with the FTC. Call toll-free 877-382-4357 or file a complaint online;
  • contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Many online seller websites, such as eBay, have their own protocol for reporting and dealing with scammers. If you did make the money transfer, you can alert your money transfer company of your situation so they are prepared for any future complaints.

While it's hard to accept that you might have been the victim of someone else's wrongdoing, try not to be too hard on yourself. Bank transfer fraud is on the rise day by day, so the schemes are constantly evolving. By reporting this and being open about your experience, you help others recognize the scammers and put an end to their activities.

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