State Warns of Online Financial Scams

Posted on Apr 19, 2018 in Latest News

The State of Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection is warning consumers to be on the look out for scammers who are asking you to wire money. Wiring money is fraught with risk, and often means that the person who receives it is a scammer.

“We recently learned of an increase in reports where scammers highjack someone’s Facebook or email account and impersonate that individual to solicit and convince others to transfer money,” said Stephen H. Levins, Executive Director, Office of Consumer Protection.

“If you’re ever asked to send money with a wire transfer it’s probably a scam. Almost every online or telemarketing scam that we’ve seen involves someone asking the victim to wire money.”

Scam artists use a number of elaborate schemes to get your money, and many involve money transfers through companies like Western Union and MoneyGram. Scammers pressure people to use money transfers so they can get the money before their victims realize they’ve been cheated. Money transfers are virtually the same as sending cash — there are no protections for the sender. Typically, there is no way you can reverse the transaction or trace the money. Also, when you wire money, the recipient can pick it up at one of many locations. That makes it nearly impossible to identify the recipient or track him down. In some cases, the receiving agents of the money transfer company may be cooperating with a scammer.

The Office of Consumer Protection advises that you don’t wire money to a person who:

  • you never met
  • says they are your relative, and they’re having a crisis — but they don’t want you to tell anyone
  • says a money transfer is the only form of payment they accept
  • asks you to deposit a check and send some of the money back.

If you’ve wired money to a scam artist, call the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. You can reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-666-3947) or Western Union at 1-800-325-6000. Ask for the money transfer to be reversed. It’s unlikely to happen, but it’s important to ask. Then, file a complaint with the Office of Consumer Protection and the Federal Trade Commission.

Here are some common money transfer scams to avoid:

  • Family Emergency Scams
    You get a call out of the blue from someone who claims to be a member of your family and needs cash for an emergency — to fix a car, get out of jail or leave a foreign country. He begs you to wire money right away and to keep the request confidential. Before you send money, talk with your family. If you feel that you cannot ignore the request, try to verify the caller’s identity by asking personal questions a stranger can’t answer. And keep trying to reach your family to check out the story.
  • Lotteries and Sweepstakes
    You just won a foreign lottery! The letter says so, and a cashier’s check is included. All you have to do is deposit the check and wire money to pay for taxes and fees. Don’t do it. The check is probably fake and you will lose any money you send.
  • Overpayment Scams
    Someone responds to your posting or ad, and offers to use a cashier’s check, personal check or corporate check to pay for the item you’re selling. At the last minute, the “buyer” (or his “agent”) finds a reason to write the check for more than the purchase price. He asks you to deposit the check and wire back the difference. Don’t do it. The check is probably fake. It might fool a bank teller at first, but eventually the check will bounce and you’ll owe money to the bank.
  • Mystery Shopper Scams
    You are hired to be a mystery shopper and evaluate the customer service of a company. You’re given a check to deposit in your personal bank account. You’re told to withdraw cash and wire the money using a certain money transfer service. Often, the instructions say to send the money to a person in Canada or another country outside the U.S. Don’t do it. The check is probably fake and so is the “mystery shopping” job.
  • Apartment Rental Scams
    Some scammers copy legitimate rental or real estate listings, change the contact information, and place the altered ads on other sites. Others make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to get your attention by offering below-market rent. If you respond to the ads, the scammers ask you to wire an application fee, security deposit or the first month’s rent. It’s never a good idea to send money to someone you haven’t met for an apartment you haven’t seen. If you can’t meet in person, see the apartment, or sign a lease before you pay, keep looking.
  • Advance Fee Loans
    You may be tempted by ads and websites that guarantee loans or credit cards regardless of your credit history. But often, when you apply for the loan or credit card, you find out you must pay a fee in advance. If you have to wire money for the promise of a loan or credit card, you’re probably dealing with a scam artist.
  • Buying Online
    If you are buying something online and the seller says you must use a money transfer to pay, it’s a sign you won’t get the item or a refund. Tell the seller you want to use a credit card, an escrow service or another way to pay. If the seller won’t accept, find another seller.
  • Paying a Telemarketer
    Under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, it’s illegal for a telemarketer to ask you to pay with a cash-to-cash money transfer, like those from MoneyGram and Western Union. If a telemarketer asks you to use one of these payment methods, he’s breaking the law.

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Media Contact:
William Nhieu
Communications Officer
Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs
Email: wnhieu@dcca.hawaii.gov
Phone: (808) 586-7582