Money transfer scams are often linked to organised crime. Find out how these criminals could target you and how to spot the warning signs.First published: 05/04/2016 Last updated: 20/03/2023 See all updates
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How money transfer scams work
Transferring money for someone might seem like an easy way to earn cash, but it’s likely to be a scam and you could be committing a serious criminal offence.
You may be asked to accept a payment into your bank account. You’re then told to forward the money to another account, or withdraw the cash, in exchange for a percentage of the payment.
The fraudsters may contact you via email or social media, or you may see an ad in a newspaper or online, offering commission on what seems like simple work.
It might be pitched as an opportunity to work from home as an 'account manager' or 'transfer manager'. You may be told that the money is for trading shares abroad, or even that you’ll be helping a charity distribute funds.
But the criminals will probably use you as a 'money mule' to launder money.
Money is laundered to disguise where it came from. It’s usually done to make the proceeds of crime look like they came from a legal source.
Once it’s taken out of your bank account as cash, the money is almost impossible to trace.
By taking part in this scam, you could be helping to fund serious crime. If caught, you could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison and receive an unlimited fine. You may also find it hard to access banking services or credit in the future.
Foreign money transfer scams
If you’re contacted by someone claiming to be a foreign official who needs help transferring large sums of money, it’s likely to be a scam.
Fraudsters usually say they’re a government official, a doctor or a minister, and will ask for your help to transfer millions of pounds (or dollars) out of their country.
They’ll often blame a recent disaster or a war for their request and they’ll promise to pay you a share of the money once you’ve paid a fee.
They’ll claim that all you have to do is send an administration fee and your bank account details. But you may also be asked to pay for taxes, legal costs or even bribes.
The fraudsters often ask victims to send several instalments of increasing amounts, and some victims are even asked to travel overseas to complete paperwork. Once abroad, they’re threatened or not allowed to leave until more money is paid to the criminals.
Transferring money upfront
There are many scams that may ask you to pay money upfront. This might be after an offer of a loan or credit, a new job or a lottery win.
You might also be contacted if you own shares in a company. The fraudster may offer to buy them, usually at a higher price than their market value. It might sound like a great deal, but they will usually ask for money upfront, as a bond or other form of security.
If you’re asked to pay a fee in advance, you’ll probably never hear from the fraudsters again once you’ve paid.
How to protect yourself
These scams are generally linked to organised crime, and you shouldn’t respond in any way. Don’t even reply to the fraudsters to tell them to stop contacting you. This will just confirm your identity and details.
Remember, it’s highly unlikely that you’ve been specially chosen by someone living abroad. You’re just one of many people that the scammers are trying to trick.
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 FS Register.
Report a money transfer scam
If you’re worried about a potential scam or you think you may have been contacted by a fraudster, report it to us.
Call us on 0800 111 6768 or use our contact form to get in touch.