While wire fraud schemes are nothing new, it is becoming easier for fraudsters to target their victims in the digital age. As criminals become more sophisticated, it’s important to stay alert to red flags and carefully check requests before transferring any funds.
What is Wire Fraud?
Simply put, wire fraud is a scheme that attempts to defraud or obtain money based on false representation or promises. It can occur in many different forms these days—from a phone call or an email to a text or social media messaging. Not so long ago, fraudsters would make hundreds of phone calls before finding a victim. It’s now as easy as posting a few pictures with a tragic story to begin conning others out of their money.
Wire fraud can generally be divided into two categories—the unwitting victim and account takeover. In a common unwitting victim scenario, an individual posing as someone else—from an authority figure to a relative—claims to need funds immediately and the victim gives over the funds without realizing they’re being scammed. In an account takeover, the scam artist gains access to the victim’s personal information and accesses their hard-earned funds.
Protecting Yourself & Others
By educating yourself on the tactics used by con artists, you’ve added the first layer of protection to your funds. For example, pay close attention to any correspondence such as a payment invoice. Scammers have become pros at mimicking the look of an actual company’s invoice. However, if an email, phone number or street address is off, contact a company representative at a number you’ve previously used—not one included in the recent correspondence.
Below are a few additional things to keep in mind:
- A request to wire money to a new location should make you highly suspicious. Even if the communication appears legitimate, make a few phone calls to your contacts to ensure the change is official.
- Reach out directly to the supplier or service provider if you receive an email invoice or billing statement that you’re not expecting in the amount requested. Be sure to contact them using known contact information and not the information listed on the email and/or invoice.
- Bad grammar and spelling mistakes are red flags. Also, inspect the email address to ensure the sender is real. A relatively small difference in an email extension (such as “.co” instead of “.com”) or a few letters switched in a company name (like “abccompany.com” becoming “acbcompany.com”) can direct your email from a real business to a scammer.
- Scams often include an extra sense of urgency to have the money sent (“I need this money wired immediately or the deal will fall through”) or a plea to keep it confidential (“Please don’t tell my partner about this personal business”). They may also appear to be from someone fallen on hard times (“I’m out of the country and lost my wallet”). Even if the email appears to be from someone you know, check with that individual personally before sending any money.
By taking a step back and investigating before reacting, you can potentially save yourself and your business from making a costly mistake. Your local bank associates are also trained to help spot a potential scam and take extra steps to protect you. By asking a few questions, your banker may help save you from sending funds—which may not be recoverable—into the hands of a con artist.
For additional tips on avoiding wire fraud and other online scams, visit the Information Security section of Busey’s Money Matters blog.