Money Transfer Scams

Of all the reasons that criminals try to scam us, "earning" money is the number one reason. And there's no quicker way to do this than to fool us into transferring thousands straight into their bank account.

Money transfer scams have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, whether it's to impersonate a solicitor and steal someone's house deposit, or to fool company accountants into believing they're a genuine supplier who need paying.

Below are some of the more common scams to watch for:


Conveyancing fraud

House For Sale signs

Buying a house is the biggest purchase that most of us will ever make. It's exciting yet stressful in equal measure, with huge sums of money changing hands.

And because there's a lot of money involved, criminals have taken an interest with conveyancing fraud becoming more common in recent years.

This is where criminals spoof emails from the house buyer's solicitor, giving the buyer the wrong bank details to send their deposit to.

Often criminals achieve this by hacking into the solicitor's email account, watching all communication between buyer and solicitor, and then (when the time is right) posing as the solicitor to send emails from this genuine account. This type of fraud is incredibly cruel - yet devastatingly effective - with huge sums of money often lost and never recovered.

How to spot & avoid conveyancing fraud

This fraud can be easily avoided with a simple double check of the bank details. Never rely on email to confirm anything (the fraudsters may have control of your solicitor's email account) - the best method is often just a quick phone call to your solicitor.

A simple phone call could help avoid losing your life savings.

What to do if you're caught out?

Because this fraud is initiated from your solicitor's actual email account then it can be very hard to spot. If you are unlucky enough to become a victim of this then:

  • Contact your bank immediately - explain to them what is going on and ask them to freeze any payments that haven't yet gone through. Talk to their fraud department; they'll launch an investigation and might be able to recover some of the money.
  • Report the scam to the police. Make sure to get a crime reference number & contact details for the investigator.
  • Report this to your solicitor straight away. Don't rely on email (the criminals may still have access), instead just phone them up. They'll need to immediately secure their email account again and alert all their other customers.
  • Read this news article too to see how another victim of a similar scam managed to get all of his money back!

CEO fraud

A typical CEO Fraud email

A typical "CEO Fraud" email

This scam involves the criminal impersonating a company CEO (or other senior director) and emailing someone in the finance team to ask them to urgently transfer a large sum of money. It's highly targeted - the criminals may even have gained access to the CEOs email account, or be using an extremely similar looking email address.

Sadly these scams have a high success rate with some companies having lost millions because of it (and some people their jobs). From October 2013 to February 2016, US law enforcement received reports of more than $2.3 billion in losses due to this type of fraud.

How to spot & avoid CEO fraud

If you ever receive this type of email:

  • Always question the request. Don't blindly comply until you've verified that it's genuine by other means, such as by phone or talking to your CEO in person.
  • Don't let yourself be pressured. Follow your company's procedures and use your judgement; many fraudsters try to pressure you into acting quickly before you have time to realise it's a scam.

If you work in a finance team, what checks & procedures does your company have in place? Would an email from one director be enough to trigger a money transfer (even a small one)? How do you verify any requests or bank details? It's worth taking the time to review your processes and procedures!

What to do if you're caught out?

If you think you may have fallen for this type of fraud then you need to act fast to have any chance of getting your money back:

  • Contact your bank immediately; explain to them what is going on and ask them to freeze any payments that haven't yet gone through. Talk to their fraud department; they'll launch an investigation and might be able to recover some of the money.
  • Check with your CEO (or whoever the email supposedly came from) whether they did genuinely send the email. Do this by phoning them or speaking in person; don't trust email as the criminals may still have access to it.
  • Report the scam to the police. Make sure to get a crime reference number & contact details for the investigator.
  • Your CEO should change the password to their email account immediately. Your IT team should also investigate whether there's been any breach of their email account.

Mandate fraud

Company invoices

Mandate fraud is when a criminal poses as one of your existing suppliers, and persuades you to change the bank details for where you pay them.

This type of fraud is seen across many businesses from small to large, with even huge companies being fooled by this. It's effectively a variant of the Conveyancing fraud we saw above, but this time being targetted at companies instead.

Sometimes this fraud is carried out by the criminals mimicking the email address of the company they're posing as; other times they've actually hacked into the company's email and have full control. It's not just restricted to email either - it's been known to have been carried out by post with the company's letterhead having been forged.

How to spot & avoid mandate fraud

If you ever you receive a request to change payment details from someone - for example a solicitor, company supplier, or even just a magazine subscription you have:

  • Always double check these requests, even if there's no reason to suspect it's anything other than genuine.
  • Never rely on email to contact them back - remember the hackers may have control of their email account. The best method is often a quick phone call using a phone number you know you to be accurate.

What to do if you're caught out?

If you think you may have fallen for this type of fraud then you need to act fast to have any chance of getting your money back:

  • Contact your bank immediately; explain to them what is going on and ask them to freeze any payments that haven't yet gone through. Talk to their fraud department; they'll launch an investigation and might be able to recover some of the money.
  • Check with the supplier who the email claims to be from as to whether they did genuinely send the email. Do this by phone; don't trust email in case the criminals still have access to it.
  • Report the scam to the police. Make sure to get a crime reference number & contact details for the investigator.
  • Ensure that anyone else in your company who has the authority to change payment details is aware that this happened; they'll need to be on the lookout for any further attempts the fraudsters may make.

Bank fraud alerts

Credit cards

There are multiple variants of this fraud, all of which are based around the fraudster pretending to be from your bank (or the police) and claiming there's been fraud on your account.

The scammers will either email or (more commonly) phone you, and to try to convince you that to protect yourself you need to follow their requests. These could be asking you to do one or more of:

  • Transfer your balance to a "safe" account that they give you the details of;
  • Verify your PIN with them;
  • Withdraw some cash and hand it (and/or your bank card) over to a courier who'll call at your house;
  • Buy an expensive item - such as a watch - to help the police identify counterfeit items, and then hand it over to a courier who'll pass it to the police.

In fact there are several variations in use, which (not surprisingly!) all end up with you losing substantial amounts of money. Sometimes the fraudsters will even claim that bank staff are under investigation; a tactic designed to dissuade you from visiting your branch where the scam might be uncovered.

You should also be aware of another trick that fraudsters sometimes use to gain your trust, whereby they'll ask you to hang up & dial back using the phone number on the back of your bank card. You might then think you're definitely talking to your bank - but you're not!

In many countries phone calls are only disconnected once both parties hang up. So even if you end the call and dial a new number, if the fraudsters don't hang up as well you'll still be on the same call. They may fake background noises from a call centre and have a colleague take over, but it'll still be the same criminal gang that you're talking to - not your bank.

How to spot & avoid bank fraud alert scams

If you ever you receive an email or phone call claiming to be from your bank or the police:

  • Be suspicious: If you receive an email security alert from your bank or the police then check out our guide on how to spot a phishing email.
  • Never hang up then phone straight back from the same phone - always use a different phone to call anyone back with. If you don't have another phone then wait an hour or call a friend who's voice you recognise. Only call trusted numbers such as those on the back of your bank card.
  • Never disclose sensitive details: Neither the police nor your bank will ever ask you for your PIN number, either verbally or by typing it into your phone. If anyone ever asks this hang up and report it to the police.
  • Never hand anything over to someone who comes to your door - the banks and police *never* request this.

If you have any elderly or vulnerable relatives then discuss this with them and make them aware of what to do; vulnerable people living alone are often targetted in this type of scam.

What to do if you're caught out?

If you have been scammed then it's nothing to be embarrassed by; all humans have several natural traits that make us susceptible to fraud. We instinctively want to help others and trust each other - it's part of who we are. Fraudsters know this, and use it against us.

  • Contact your bank immediately that you realise you've been scammed (use the phone number on the back of your bank card); explain to them what is going on and ask them to freeze any payments that haven't yet gone through. Talk to their fraud department; they'll launch an investigation and might be able to recover some of the money.
  • Report the scam to the police. Make sure to get a crime reference number & contact details for the investigator.
  • Always be sure who you're talking to when reporting it; be aware of the phone line trick mentioned above. Only use phone numbers that you trust.

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