Foreign money transfer scams

Find out how foreign money transfer scams work and what you can do to avoid them.

If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a foreign government official or another individual needing help to transfer substantial sums of money, it is likely you are being targeted by a money transfer scam.

These scams usually involve paying money to an organisation or individual with the promise that it will be refunded once paid.

Fraudsters usually claim you will then receive a share of a much larger sum of money once the transfer is made. 

However, the only money that exists is what you pay to the scammers.

How foreign money transfer scams work

Often, an email, letter or fax will arrive asking you to help someone transfer millions of pounds or dollars out of their country. The need to do this might be related to a recent disaster or a war.

The person will claim that all you have to do to receive a share of the money is send an administration fee and your bank account details. 

You might also be asked to pay for taxes, legal costs or even bribes, and the fraudsters often ask victims to send several instalments of increasing amounts.

The scammers may also try to access your bank account, using the details you have given them, to remove money from it.

Some victims are even asked to travel overseas to complete the necessary paperwork, but once abroad they are physically threatened or not allowed to leave until more money is paid to the criminals.

Protect yourself

Remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Do not respond at all to an individual asking for help to place large sums of money in an overseas bank account. 

Do not tell them to stop contacting you – this will confirm your identity and details, and encourage further contact.

Beware that the scam emails, letters or faxes will often contain spelling mistakes and bad grammar. They may also be signed by a doctor, chief, general or minister.

Remember that it is highly unlikely you have been ‘specially chosen’ by someone living abroad. You are one of many people that the scammers are trying to trick.

You should never give out your bank account details unless you are certain of who you are dealing with.

What to do if you think you've been scammed

If you’ve lost money in a scam, contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or online. Remember, if you’ve given out any of your personal information, or have made a payment, contact your bank immediately using the contact details on the Financial Services Register.

Other upfront money scams

There are many other scams where you may be asked to pay money upfront but do not receive anything in return. 

This might be after an offer of a loan or credit, job or lottery winnings.

You might also come across the scam if you own shares in a company and receive a call from someone offering to buy them, usually at a higher price than their market value.

This might sound like a great deal, but will likely come with a request for money upfront as a bond or other form of security, which the scammers say they will pay back if the sale does not go ahead. 

Remember, once you pay this fee, you are unlikely to ever hear from them again.

Page updates

19/08/2021: Information changed Money Advice Service to MoneyHelper