Tag Archives: Money Wiring

Don’t fall for the stranded friend scam

According to the latest Intelligence Note from the IC3, people continue to lose thousands of dollars to a common social networking scam.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Somebody hacks your friend’s Facebook account.
  2. They send messages to all their friends that boil down to “Help, I’m in London and somebody stole all my money and cards and I need you to wire me money. I’ll pay you back later.”
  3. You wire several hundred dollars to London.
  4. You find out your friend has been at home the entire time and, “Oh yeah, by the way, somebody hacked my Facebook account…”

Maybe there are cases where people have actually gotten cleaned out in some foreign city and used Facebook or Twitter to contact their friends and have them wire money to them, but I’ve never heard of it happening.

If you get a message like this from a Facebook friend, don’t just respond immediately by wiring cash. There are some questions you need to ask first:

  1. Is your friend actually in London?

Actually, that one question alone will usually tell you everything you need to know. Pick up the telephone and call your friend. You know that mobile Internet device you’re always using to find sushi restaurants? You can call people on those. If your friend is sitting at home watching the Leif Garrett episode of Behind the Music for the hundredth time, you know that message was a scam. Also, “Oh yeah, by the way, dude, somebody hacked your Facebook account.”

Then again, if you get that message at all, you should already be about 99.9% sure it’s fake. Even now, whose first reaction upon getting robbed would be to run to Facebook? There are police in London, you know, and I’m sure they have procedures.

Plus, you should never wire money to anyone without being able to verify, beyond a reasonable doubt, who you’re sending it to, where you’re sending it, and why you’re sending it.

Fraud Prevention Templates: scams involving money wiring.

I’ve written upwards of 140 posts about scams, fraud and identity theft since last July, and it seems like there are a lot of schemes that are based on the same idea, only with different details.

For example, consider these two scenarios:

  1. Rental Scam: a landlord is sent a cashier’s check for far more than the first/last month’s rent and security deposit. The crook tells the landlord to just wire the overage back to him. Later, the check is returned as fraudulent.
  2. Mystery Shopper Scam: a job seeker is sent a cashier’s check and instructed to cash it and wire the funds back, allegedly to check out the customer service at Western Union. Later, the check is returned as fraudulent.

They’re two different scams, but they hinge on that counterfeit check, and they both involve wiring money. So let’s extract a general rule of thumb here, a Fraud Prevention Template:

Anyone who sends you a check and instructs you to cash it and wire money back to them is attempting to commit fraud.

That’s it. If you’re in a situation that involves a check and wiring money back to the maker of that check, you’re about to become a victim of fraud if you continue. The actual context doesn’t really matter.

Someone contacts you via Craigslist to purchase an item you’ve listed. They send you a check for $2,000 more than you wanted for the object. They tell you to just cash it and wire the funds back. It fits the template.

You get a letter that says you won the Canadian Lottery, but you have to pay taxes and fees first. The letter includes a check with instructions to cash it and wire the funds back to them. It fits the template.

The best part of keeping this one simple rule in mind is that you don’t even have to carry any other information around in your head. You don’t have to know that a legitimate lottery never asks winners to pay in order to claim a prize, or that you can’t win a lottery you never entered, or that it’s illegal to play foreign lotteries—you’ve got a check in your hand, and some clown is telling you to cash it and wire the money back. You know right away you’re dealing with a con artist. Fraud averted.

I’m going to come up with a few more of these templates over the next few weeks. It’s a lot easier than trying to memorize the details of every little variation.

Don’t worry, though; I’ll still be on the lookout for all those variations to write about, too.

But seriously folks, what is the deal with wiring money?

Looking back over the different types of fraud and scams I’ve been covering these past few months (and the ones I’m going to cover soon), I can’t help but notice that an inordinate amount of them involve wiring money.

Mystery Shopper Scams: the victim wires money to the thief.

Grandparent Telephone Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

Craigslist Overpayment Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

Job Interview Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

Lottery Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

So this has me thinking…what is the deal with wiring money? There just seems to be an aroma of seediness around the whole industry.

I’m not trying to throw Western Union under the bus here. I know the vast majority of people are using it and similar services for legitimate reasons, but still. Why is it so easy to commit crimes using money-wiring services, and could providers do anything to make it less so?

In all honesty, probably not. The crook is the one committing a crime. The victim is just wiring money, which you can pretty much do at will. It’s not a crime to fall for a scam. Limiting users’ ability to wire funds would just create extra hassle for customers and drive down business.

So that means it’s on you to not become a victim in the first place. Be knowledgeable about different types of scams. Most of all, just think before you act.

For example, I can’t think of a single legitimate case in which someone would mail you a cashier’s check and ask you to cash it, then wire money back to them. If someone is telling you to do this, it is a scam. 100% of the time. Just take that as a general rule, and you’ll reduce your chances of becoming a victim.