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How To Send Money Abroad Safely: The Ultimate Guide

Byron Mühlberg, writer at Monito.com
Sep 30, 2022
Affiliate disclosure

It goes without saying that security is a paramount concern for many people when sending money internationally. Many Monito users, for example, hold security as the most important factor when looking for ways to send money abroad.

On Monito, all money transfer providers are vetted against stringent security and credibility standards before appearing on our comparison engine, including verifiable criteria such as valid authorisation from all relevant financial authorities, number of customers, annual volume transacted, years in business, number of employees, and more. In the end, this means that every service featured on Monito is fully secure and can be used with the utmost confidence.

However — just as with everything — there are still risks associated with sending money online, and finding the safest way to send money internationally remains an important concern for many users. In this guide, we explore why wire transfers are the most secure way to send money internationally, examine the risks of scams and fraud (including what to do if you fall victim) before discussing the best apps and websites for sending money safely.

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To find a guaranteed secure way to send money internationally, compare money transfer providers in real-time on Monito's award-winning comparison engine. Not only will you be able to compare services in terms of price, speed, and payment methods; but you can do so with peace of mind that only top-notch providers that meet the highest standards of security and credibility make it onto our results.

Are Wire Transfers Safe?

Before we delve into the subject of bank transfer fraud and other risks of sending money abroad, let's start with the basics — is wiring money safe?

The short answer is yes. Wire transfers, both domestic wires sent within a country or international wires sent via SWIFT, are probably the safest way to transfer money available to individuals and businesses. The only real risk is being duped into wiring money to a scammer, with practically no risk associated with the funds transfer process itself.

While this naturally presents a risk when wiring money, it also presents a simple rule to avoiding money transfer scams in one fell swoop: never wire money to a person or business you don't know personally or trust. According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)¹:

Using a bank or a money transfer company to "wire" funds electronically is an easy and convenient way to send cash to someone. And when consumers wire money to people they know, the transaction typically takes place without a problem. But wiring money to strangers — in the US but especially in another country — is risky because often they could be scam artists.

As the FDIC mentions, many users choose one of two options for sending bank wires: banks and money transfer providers. Despite the magnanimous reputation banks enjoy in the realm of security, as we'll see below, both options are equally safe and secure:

Are Bank Wire Transfers Safe?

Synonymous with security, banks generally have little to prove in the way of safety and credibility. Therefore, bank wire transfers are indeed a safe way of sending money internationally, provided you know or trust the person or business to whom you're wiring money.

However, although safe, wiring money through the bank could cost you a lot. According to the World Bank, banks remain the "most expensive type of service provider" for overseas payments, with an average total fee of 10.98%² of the transaction value. As we'll explore in more detail later, this is the reason we recommend comparing fees and exchange rates among a market of equally as secure money transfer providers, which saves you money over the long run while still being safe.

Is Wiring Money Through Neobanks Safe?

In general, neobanks (also known as "challenger banks" or "digital banks") are no different to traditional high-street banks for sending money safely abroad. One question to consider is whether or not the neobank in question is indeed organised as a bank. If this is the case — as with big-name challenger banks such as N26 and Monzo — then you can be confident that bank wire transfers will be safe and secure. What's more, general banking services will also be subject to the highest security standards and typically include deposit insurance, for example via the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) in the UK and the Financial Claims Scheme (FCS) in Australia.

However, bear in mind that the term "neobank" is rather loosely defined³, and many fintechs, e-money apps, and other digital solutions are frequently called neobanks by customers even if they're not registered as fully-fledged banks. As such, you may not be able to wire money with these services at all, and we therefore recommend making sure that these services are available in the first place.

Money Wire Transfer Fraud and Scams

Make no mistake, even in the modern-day and age with advanced cybersecurity protocols and increased customer awareness for the common tricks; wire transfer fraud remains common. In the US, the FBI recorded nearly 12 thousand incidents of wire transfer scams in 2019 involving real estate alone, costing victims around US$221 million in losses. In the UK, nearly 150 thousand incidents of wire transfer fraud were reported in total in 2020, amounting to around £479 million in losses according to UK Finance.

As we saw earlier, wire transfers are a safe and secure way of transferring money internationally. However, given the fact that money wired can pretty much never be retrieved once a transfer is paid out, it should come as little surprise that the typical scam bank transfer involves a fraudster pretending to be somebody they're not.

The most common money wire transfer scams and other types of wire transfer fraud include the following:

  • Personal emergency: One of the most common types of money wire transfer scams involves a scammer pretending to be a relative reaching out to you to urgently request money in the form of a wire transfer. This scam can take on a multitude of forms and stories, sometimes involving a distant relative (explaining the anonymity) or a close relative (whose personal details have been hijacked).
  • Online dating: This type of wire transfer fraud relies on an emotional connection to elicit sympathy and manipulate a victim into sending a wire transfer. In these scams, con artists will pose as a romantic partner online, building up trust (sometimes over months) before finally requesting you send them money to help them out.
  • Phishing: In cybersecurity, phishing is the practice of using email to bait victims into sending money. In the case of wire transfer fraud, swindlers often pretend to be legitimate companies or trusted affiliates of a person or employee. These emails can often look very authentic, fully equipped with a legitimate-looking email client, domain, sender name, and job description.
  • Lotteries: Another common example of wire transfer fraud can occur if you receive an email congratulating you for winning a prize (often the lottery or a similar contest). The email will request that you wire money to the attached banking details to cover the fees and taxes before claiming the prize. If you fall for the scam by wiring the money, the swindler will close their account and make off with your funds.
  • Too-good-to-be-true purchases: Whether online or in the classifieds, if you come across a deal for a bargain price, consider the age-old adage of whether or not it might in fact be "too good to be true" and think twice before wiring money. Fraudsters often advertise houses, apartments, cars, household appliances, and other more expensive items which require a deposit to be wired in advance. All too often, these offers are bogus, and falling for such a scam will leave you short of the deposit.

It's well worth noting that — although the above money transfer scams are among the most common — wire transfer fraud can take on any number of tricks and ruses to get you to wire money. Also, be mindful of the fact that, although these tricks may appear obvious or difficult to fall for, there's still a simple reason why they're used in the first place: hundreds of thousands of people fall for them each year.

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If you're sending money overseas with a major money transfer operator and you'd like to get a fuller sense of what types of money transfer scams frequently affect their customers, take a look at common types of scams at Western Union and MoneyGram respectively.

How To Send Money Safely and Avoid Fraud

To send money safely and avoid getting tangled up in money transfer scams, keep the following tips in mind before you send money internationally:

  • Take extra care if there's a rush: If you're being pressed to send money urgently, it should be an immediate red flag.
  • Don't underestimate plausibility: Scammers and swindlers sometimes spend a lot of time and energy weaving targetted, personalised, and realistic-looking schemes to make their bait appear real. If the message looks real but the request itself is out of the ordinary, be sure to verify its authenticity before wiring any money.
  • Verify the regulators: When sending money internationally, make sure the organisation to which you're wiring money is authorised in its country. If you're sending abroad for investment purposes, go to IOSCO (International Organization of Securities Commissions) to determine which local securities commission is responsible in the country you're sending to. Then, go to the respective website to see if the broker is indeed regulated. If you're sending to an independent charity, try to verify its legitimacy by finding its tax status.
  • Be suspicious of emails from big-name organisations: If somebody from a famous company or a government agency contacts you out of the blue to request that you wire money to them, there's a good chance it's a ruse.
  • Look for alternative payment methods: If the person or organization requesting payment offers you multiple payment options, it's more likely to be legitimate. Scammers tend to insist on payment via wire transfer only, as these are nearly impossible to retrace once sent.
  • Check for reputable payment service providers: If you're looking for a good deal to send money internationally, make sure the provider you choose is fully accredited and trustworthy. You can try a free-to-use comparison engine like Monito to compare the most secure providers in real-time.

For businesses, while avoiding money transfer fraud can also take the form of common-sense security practises among employees (including those highlighted above), additional technical protocols and written procedures are often necessary. These typically include multi-factor authentication of transactions, reviewal of transfer details by the two parties either in-person or via live online or telephonic discussion, and updating and patching admin systems where needed.

What To Do When Victim of a Fraud

If you've fallen victim to wire transfer fraud, quick and decisive action is the only way to retrieve your funds. Even so, success is not guaranteed, and we recommend contacting your bank or money transfer operator — as well as the relevant authorities — as soon as you know you've been involved in an online scam.

I Wired Money to a Scammer Can I Get It Back?

Sending money to internet scammers and fraudsters is an increasingly easy trap to fall into. While in many cases, it will not be possible to recover your funds after having made a wire transfer to a scammer, fortunately, if you act quickly enough, there's a fairly good chance you'll be able to have your funds reversed.

If you sent money internationally through a money transfer company, contact them as quickly as possible, explain your situation, and request your money transfer be reversed. Below are the relevant fraud hotlines at four of the largest money transfer companies for respective countries:

Similarly, if you sent money through your bank that you believe to be a money transfer scam, you should call your banking representative urgently and explain your situation in full. Fortunately, many banks have measures to protect customers against money transfer scams. The best thing you can do in the event of being defrauded is to act by communicating as quickly as possible.

If your wire transfer has already been paid out, you probably won't get your money back. However, you may still have options at your disposal. These include contacting anti-fraud centres and the relevant authorities.

If you wired money to a scammer through Western Union and it has already arrived, for example, you can file a fraud claim using your tracking number and transfer details. In addition, many authorities worldwide offer victims the opportunity to report cases of wire transfer fraud. This will allow the authorities to investigate the incident and, in some cases, offer advice specific to your situation:

Finally — regardless of whether your wire transfer has been paid out or not — you should also report any incident of wire transfer fraud to the police in your country. Although it's unlikely they'll be able to help you get your money back, a formal record of your incident can help police and law enforcement to better respond to and track similar incidents in the future.

What Is the Safest Way To Send Money Online

So long as you're transferring money via bank transfer or through a licensed operator, your transfer will be just about as safe it can get, meaning there are many safe ways to transfer money online and no safest of all, at least not in the strict sense.

That being said, some money transfer services have a more established record of service and are thus more trustworthy as a result. Factors such as transfer volume handled, number of customers, authorisation from financial regulators, avoidance of high-risk financial instruments and derivatives, number of employees, and years in business all contribute to the trust and credibility of a money transfer company over the long run.

On Monito, because all services are vetted against stringent security and credibility standards before being featured, you can have confidence that every provider appearing on our comparison engine is a safe way to send money online. However, if you're looking for services that are both among the safest and the cheapest ways to send money internationally, we recommend considering the following three options:

Wise

  • Safety: Duly authorised and regulated by the FCA and HMRC in the United Kingdom, Wise moves more than US$70 billion across borders for more than 10 million customers every year, making it a trustworthy money transfer partner.
  • Recommendation: We recommend Wise especially for small- to medium-sized bank transfers (up to US$10,000.00) destined for international bank accounts, as the platform is particularly well-priced for these transfers.
  • More info: See our full Wise review.

Western Union

  • Safety: With more than US$96 billion transferred across the globe in 2020 and around 150 million customers, Western Union is the largest (and oldest) money transfer operator on the globe.
  • Recommendation: While not always the cheapest way to send money internationally, Western Union is nonetheless a reasonably-priced option that sometimes offers the best way to transfer money internationally to far-flung countries. As a result, we recommend Western Union to users who're looking for a wide variety of pay-in and pay-out options and destination countries.
  • More info: See our full Western Union review.

Remitly

  • Safety: Moving over US$5 billion across the globe for more than 3 million customers annually, Remitly is a well-established money transfer provider that has been in the field for 10 years.
  • Recommendation: Because of its speed and pricing for cash-related transfers in particular, we recommend Remitly for sending money for cash pick-up and cash home delivery services.
  • More info: See our full Remitly review.

What Is the Safest Money Transfer App?

As we discussed above, all money transfer services appearing on Monito are as safe and secure as it gets, and from that perspective, the respective mobile apps of each service also equally as secure too.

However, if you're looking for the best-rated mobile app according to the Monito Score, which offers the best all-around user experience (while still being highly secure), we recommend the following three in particular:

  1. Wise
  2. WorldRemit
  3. Remitly

To learn more, take a look at our in-depth mobile app rankings here.

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