It’s payday Friday when you happen to receive a text message from an unknown number.
As you read through the text, you feel like it’s someone you know. It’s that relative of yours from your hometown, saying they changed their mobile number and would like you to contact them there from now on. But there’s a catch—they’re asking you to send them a sum of money due to a vague “emergency.”
You begin to get suspicious and think that this doesn’t sound like your relative at all. That’s when you realize that it was merely an attempt to scam you of your hard-earned cash…
* * *
The above tale is something many Filipinos know all too well. It’s a typical example of a remittance scam, and unfortunately, there are still some who fall victim to it. What’s worse is that it’s difficult to reverse any action done once payment has been made, meaning your savings or emergency stash could get lost for good.
Scammers have become way too creative these days. Several remittance horror stories all over the internet serve as cautionary tales to the ordinary person to be wary of who they send money to. As of now, there’s no foolproof way to stop scammers from doing the dirty work that they do. However, you can avoid falling into their trap by educating yourself on how to spot these scams.
In this case, knowledge is indeed power.
Scams Defined by Numbers
Just how huge of an impact do money transfer scams have? Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are common targets for various extortion MOs since they regularly send money to relatives in the Philippines. In 2018, OFW remittances hit an all-time high of $32.21 billion—no wonder they’re enticing to scammers.
One report in 2018 was that of a 23-year-old seaman who got scammed a total of P600,000 throughout a fake relationship with an imposter. While this example is an extreme case, it’s one of the sad truths OFWs face. Online scams are becoming popular nowadays, thanks to the internet and social media.
Even though that’s the case, text scams are still by far the most popular way to scam people of their money. On a global scale, the Federal Trade Commission estimates that nearly 1 out of 5 people lose money when it comes to remittance scams. The most common MOs are imposter scams (pretending to be a distressed family member or creating fake accounts online), debt collection (coercing money transfers through fear), and identity theft (collecting personal and financial data to steal money).
How to Avoid Remittance Scams
1. Be skeptical about suspicious messages
The example above is just one of the few storylines scammers default to when texting. Always verify the identity of the sender and note the contents of the message. If it’s their first message and they’re asking for money right away, chances are they’re a scammer.
A popular SMS scam is those of free trials from companies. While the free trial in itself may not be a scam, they could trick you into giving your credit card details or billing you on a monthly business with a complicated cancellation process. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is—search for reviews and other experiences from your friends or even online before you commit. Which brings us to the next point…
2. Do online searches
While reviews are a great indicator if you’re dealing with a scammer, you can dig deeper. If you don’t find anything substantial about the company that the scammer is allegedly representing, you can type searches online describing your incident. If the company name is available, you can type their brand with the keywords “scam” or “complaints” to see a broader view of the situation. When reading reviews, make sure those leaving them are real people and not just hiding behind dummy accounts or fake usernames. It’s possible for these scammers to build a phony review about them online as well.
3. Beware of common modus operandi
Besides the OFW stint and free trials from businesses, there are a few more seemingly harmless scams out there. You could receive messages like you’ve won the lottery or a raffle in your city, which requires you to submit identification and other sensitive information. Never give out your data via text, email, or phone calls when interacting with individuals, representatives, or companies for the first time. Ensure that you are on the line with someone you trust or make face-to-face transactions instead.
There are also scams littering the digital space. Those get-rich-quick schemes that promise you six-figure salaries per month can get you trapped into a networking gig that you didn’t want in the first place. Others hide in the form of ads that could capture your data when you click, such as through fake registration forms.
4. Stick to trusted money transfer providers
When transferring money to your friends or relatives overseas, don’t fall for remittance centers that promise lower rates, faster transfers than popular ones, or those that fail to show a license in their shop. Go for trusted names that have a proven track record of providing reliable and secure service to their customers. You will rest easy knowing that your money will go where it’s meant to go, and not easily claimed by people you didn’t mean it for. You also get updates as to when they’ve received the money and who claimed it for them, with proof of receipt.
5. Educate yourself about cryptocurrency scams too
If you’re using virtual coins, it’s also a great practice to be careful of how you proceed with your transfers. Blockchain technology may be public and secure, but once the coin is sent, there’s no way you can get it back.
Since cryptocurrency transfers are relatively new to the Philippines, there is a lot of misinformation and fear-mongering with the public about the issue. Thankfully, you can easily spot cryptocurrency scams and avoid them as well.
6. Never pay upfront
Regardless if they are offering you a good deal, resist being swayed to pay on the spot. Again, if someone asks you for money or bank details on the first conversation you’ve had with them, this could be an attempt to scam you. Reputable companies never ask for your information openly without proper verification procedures.
7. Be careful about public Wi-Fi
The internet is a weapon that you can use to educate yourself about scams, but it can also be used against you. Be wary of agents who make you fill up forms in a public computer connected to a public Wi-Fi. Well-versed hackers can attempt to steal your data via the fields you enter, and you won’t even notice it. Don’t send money online, whether abroad or locally, via free internet connection. It’s better to wait until you’re home where you have a secure Wi-Fi connection.
Send Money Wisely
Always proceed with caution when it comes to sending money. Make sure that you’re transacting with someone you trust, and you’re going through due process with the steps needed to accomplish the remittance. Verification is a necessary process during payment, so don’t feel bad about doing background research.
It’s easy to avoid scams once you know how to spot them. Awareness is the key. Share this to your friends and family members so they can detect and prevent falling from remittance scams as well.