Foreign money transfer scams

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

If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a foreign government official or other person needing help to transfer millions of pounds it is likely you are being set up for a foreign money transfer scam.

These scams can also be called ‘advance fee fraud’ or ‘419 fraud’, which refers to the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud. However, scammers can operate from any country.

It involves paying money to an organisation or individual under the impression that it will be refunded and you will receive a share of a much larger sum once it is transferred abroad. But the only money that exists is what you pay to the scammers.

How foreign money transfer scams work

An email, letter or fax arrives 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.

All you have to do to receive a substantial share of the money, say around 30%, 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 to an individual asking for help to place large sums of money in an overseas bank account. This includes not replying to tell them to stop contacting you – all you will do is 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 instead 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.

You can also find out what to do if you think you have been scammed.

Other upfront money scams

There are many other scams where you are 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. But once you pay this fee you are unlikely to ever hear from them again.