Wire fraud has evolved significantly over the years, becoming far more sophisticated than the “Nigerian Prince” scams of the early 2000s.

It’s the original online phishing scam, where fraudsters send an email claiming they are a Nigerian prince who is facing some form of made-up crisis and cannot access a vast fortune. But, if the target sends them a small sum of money, the phony prince will miraculously be able to send them a larger amount of money down the line. Ultimately, the money will never come.

Scammers have moved on from the Nigerian Prince and have developed new methods to trick victims into sending them money, including but not limited to phishing and social engineering. Such tactics are succeeding at a troubling rate. The FTC found U.S. citizens lost at least $483 million to wire fraud in 2021

This blog post explores how wire fraud works, highlights some of the red flags associated with these schemes, and details what you should do if you send money to a scammer.

Wire fraud warning signs

Wire fraud occurs when malicious actors send electronic communications to a target with the intent to deceive them into turning over monetary funds. Today, scammers often pose as a trusted source, whether it’s a bank, government entity, friend, employer, or even a member of your family.

To better their chances of success, scammers often send messages that attempt to emotionally manipulate their target into turning over money. These tactics can range from the promise for a nonexistent payday, similar to the infamous Nigerian Prince example, to more aggressive physical, reputation, and digital threats to them and their loved ones.

Scammers usually attempt to contact their victims via email, crafting messages that look similar to those sent by legitimate entities, but these schemes are increasingly being conducted over the phone, on social media and through the mail. 

Here are some common traits of wire fraud scams that should be treated as red flags. When you receive a message with any of these hallmarks, immediately block and report the sender.

  • Messages that convey a sense of urgency. These emails may have words such as “urgent” or “immediate action required” in the subject line.
  • Messages filled with misspellings and poor grammar. This is a common trait seen in many phishing scams. Misspellings may also be found in the sender’s email address, as they may change a character (think of a lowercase L in place of a capitalized I) to trick the recipient into believing they are legitimate. 
  • Any messages asking you to send money overseas. No reputable entity will ever ask you to do so.
  • If you receive a check in the mail asking you to cash it and send a small fee to collect the “prize”, this is a scam. The account listed on the check has been closed, and you may be penalized for cashing a bad check.
  • Anyone claiming that they can sell you a product over the phone, but require payment via wire transfer. This is an illegal practice.

Getting your money back post wire fraud is difficult

The best course of action is a simple one: Never send money to someone you don’t know or haven’t verified as authentic. Treat every request for money from an unknown person with skepticism. While nothing is 100%, there’s a very high probability that the message asking you to wire money is a scam.

But say the person who sent you the message claims to be from a government agency, or a bank. You are still facing a scam. No one from a reputable organization will ever ask you for money.

Unfortunately, if you do fall for a wire fraud scam, you have to move quickly. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to recover your stolen funds. 

In a survey conducted by the American Land Title Association, of the title companies that experienced wire fraud in 2020, 71% said they were unable to recover all of the stolen funds.

Here’s what you can do to try and recoup your payment:
  • Document every detail about the payment, from the totals sent to the account that received the payment.
  • Contact your bank or the money transfer company and report the transfer. Money transfer companies such as MoneyGram and Western Union have dedicated phone numbers to report fraud.
  • Report the crime to the FTC a ReportFraud.FTC.gov and to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. 
  • Contact your local FBI office and police department.

Set up a wire transfer verification process

Of course, there will be times when you will need to send a legitimate wire transfer, either personally or professionally. When you see a wire transfer request from someone you know, contact them directly to confirm that they, in fact, sent you the request.

Do not contact them with any details found within an email. Make sure you cross reference their contact information with what you have on file. By building in a two step approval process, you can protect yourself and your company from financial harm. 

BlackCloak members can also share any suspect messages with our Concierge and SOC teams to help determine the legitimacy.