Beware of Wire Scams

What to know before you wire funds.

Caucasian woman bank customer making a transaction with a bank teller in a retail bank. The teller is a young black woman, an African American professional working with her computer terminal and serving the customer with the transaction. Photographed from behind the shoulder of the customer in a horizontal format.

What To Know Before You Wire Money

Scammers pressure you to wire money to them because it’s easy to take your money and disappear. Wiring money with services like MoneyGram, Ria, and Western Union is like sending cash — once you send it, you usually can’t get it back. Never wire money to anyone you haven’t met in person — no matter the reason they give.

Why Scammers Want You To Wire Money

If you need to send money to someone you know and trust, wiring money through companies like MoneyGram, Ria, and Western Union can be a useful way to get it there quickly. But scammers will try to get you to wire money to them, too.

Why? Scammers know that once you wire money to them, there’s usually no way to get your money back. Scammers can quickly pick up your money at any of the wire transfer company’s locations throughout the world. And, it’s nearly impossible to identify who picked up the money or track them down.

How To Avoid a Money Wiring Scam

To protect yourself from money wiring scams:

  • Never wire money through companies like MoneyGram, Ria, or Western Union to anyone you haven’t met in person. (That’s a scam: no matter what reason they give.)
  • Don’t wire money to anyone who says they work at a government agency like the FTC, IRS, SSA, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or a well-known company. (That’s a scam: the government will never ask you to send money this way.)
  • Never wire money to anyone who pressures you into paying immediately.
  • Don’t wire money to anyone who says a wire transfer is the only way to pay.
  • Never wire money to someone who tries to sell you something over the phone. (It’s illegal for a telemarketer to ask you to pay with a wire transfer.)

How To Spot Common Wiring Scams

Here are some common ways scammers try to convince people to wire money.

Apartment and vacation rental scams

You respond to an ad for an apartment or vacation rental with surprisingly low rent. When someone answers, they tell you to wire money through companies like MoneyGram, Ria, and Western Union — maybe for an application fee, security deposit, first month’s rent, or a vacation rental fee. But scammers often trick people by putting their own contact information on apartment or vacation rental ads and photos that they hijacked from someone else. After you wire the money, the person you sent the money to disappears and you find out that there is no apartment or vacation rental.

Fake Check Scams

Someone sends you a check and tells you to deposit it. They tell you to wire some or all of the money back to them — or to another person. Since the money appears in your bank account, you do it. But the check is fake. It can take weeks for the bank to figure it out, but when it does, the bank will want you to repay the money you withdrew.

Scammers make up lots of stories to try to convince you to deposit a check and wire money:

  • Scammers say you’ve won a prize and need to wire money back to cover taxes and fees.
  • Scammers say you got a job you applied for and send you a check to buy supplies, but tell you to wire part of the money back to them or on to someone else.
  • Scammers say the check is part of a mystery shopping assignment to evaluate a wire transfer service.
  • Scammers use a check to overpay you for something you’re selling online, then ask you to wire back the extra money.

Family Emergency Scams

You get an unexpected and frantic call from someone saying they’re a family member or close friend. They say they need money to get out of trouble and to wire money through companies like MoneyGram, Ria, or Western Union right away. Not so fast. Is there really an emergency? Is it really your friend or family calling or someone calling on their behalf? It could be a scammer. Scammers call and pretend to be someone you know — and now they can use artificial intelligence technology like voice cloning to sound very real.

Prize Scams

Scammers behind fake prize, sweepstakes, or lottery scams call, text, email, or send letters saying you’ve won money or a prize. But there’s always some “reason” they say you have to wire money first — like paying for shipping and handling, taxes, or a processing fee to get the prize. But real prizes are free, and this is a scam.

Romance Scams

Romance scammers create fake profiles on dating sites, apps, and social media. Once they connect with you, they work to build your trust and might even talk or message with you several times a day. Eventually, they make up a story — like saying they have an emergency or want to travel to visit you — and ask you to send money. But there is no emergency or visit — they are not even the person they say they are — and they take your money.

Utility Scams

You get a call from someone claiming to be from your gas, water, or electric company. They say they’ll cut off your services unless you pay immediately by wiring money through companies like MoneyGram, Ria, or Western Union. These scammers want to scare you into sending money before you have time to confirm what they’re saying. But real utility companies don’t do this. A quick call to the utility company using the number on your bill or the utility company’s website would tell you it’s a scam.

What To Do If You Wired Money To a Scammer

If you sent money using a wire transfer company like MoneyGram, Ria, or Western Union, contact that company right away. Tell them it was a fraudulent transfer. Ask them to reverse the wire transfer and give you your money back.

  • MoneyGram at 1-800-926-9400
  • Ria (non-Walmart transfers) at 1-877-443-1399
  • Ria (Walmart2Walmart and Walmart2World transfers) at 1-855-355-2144
  • Western Union at 1-800-448-1492

If you sent the wire transfer through your bank, contact them and report the fraudulent transfer. Ask if they can reverse the wire transfer and give you your money back.

Report Fraud

If anyone demanded that you wire money, report it to the FTC at

Information provided from The Federal Trade Commission.