How to Wire Money Safely

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Updated on Monday, February 11, 2019

If you’ve ever had to wire money, you’re probably familiar with the jittery feeling: What if the money goes to the wrong person? What if someone steals my financial information? After all, a wire transfer occurs without physical contact between you and the recipient, and the transaction is irreversible.

Your concern is not groundless. Wire transfers are a fast, easy way to move money among individuals and businesses. But because of their speedy transaction times, they are also susceptible to fraud.

How do you wire money?

First, it’s important to know what a wire transfer is, how it works, and how it’s different from other types of electronic transfers.

A wire transfer is a direct, digital money transfer between two bank accounts, which does not need to be cleared by a third party. Because wire transfers are direct bank-to-bank transactions, they are faster than automated clearing house (ACH) transfers. Domestic wire transfers can be completed in as soon as one to two business days. But because they are faster, wire transfers are also more expensive than ACH transfers, which are usually free. Wire transfer fees vary by financial institution. The average fee for sending money via wire transfer ranges from $20 to $35, and for receiving money, the fee ranges from $10 to $20. You can also wire cash from alternative providers like Western Union and MoneyGram.

ACH transfers occur between financial institutions, and are conducted through a third-party clearinghouse. The banking system has utilized the ACH transfer method for more than four decades. Many forms of direct deposits and payments that you are familiar with — such as direct deposit paychecks sent by your employer and tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service — are made through ACH.

What information is required to wire money?

To set up a wire transfer at a bank, you will need to provide the recipient’s personal and bank account information:

  • Name
  • Account number
  • Bank routing number and SWIFT code (if needed)
  • Mailing address with city, region, country and postal ZIP code

Some banks have different routing numbers for different types of transactions. The routing number for direct deposits and ACH transfers might be different from the one used for wire transfers, for example. It is critical to find the right routing number for the type transaction you intend to make. If you’re not sure which routing number to use, you may contact your bank for help.

If you’re expecting to receive or send a wire transfer from or to an international account, you’ll need a Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) code, which is used internationally to identify specific banks. It’s the international version of a routing number; and as with a routing number, you may find the SWIFT code on your bank’s website or by calling a bank’s branch location.

Safety tips to wire money

Now that you know how a wire transfer works, let’s talk about safety. A wire transfer is fast and immediate. Con artists often take advantage of its speediness and the fact that it’s irreversible. Wire transfers happen so fast, that it’s possible for a fraudster to seize money from your account before you even realize that it’s missing. So, it’s critical to stem your risk of wire transfer fraud.

Protect your information

Never give out your bank account, credit card numbers or social security number to advertisers or unsolicited calls; or to anyone via text message or email. Swindlers can get ahold of that information to steal money from your account via wire transfer. Make sure that your electronic devices, such as computers, phones and tablets are safe and that the internet you use is secure. This will reduce the risk of having your financial and personal information stolen.

NEVER wire money to anyone you don’t know

Don’t fall for enticing stories or work opportunities presented to you by strangers. If someone you don’t know asks you to wire money, think carefully about who is making the request.

Beware of common schemes

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation warns that common scammers’ baits include work-from-home offers, deals on products for sale, or news that you have won some kind of lottery. There also have been fraud cases where a victim received a check from a scammer (for something that the victim sold to the scammer, for instance). But the scammer wrote the check for more than the amount requested. The victim deposits it into his/her bank account. Then, because of the overpayment, the scammer asked the victim to wire a portion of the money (less than the check amount) to someone else, maybe in another country. In the end, the victim often finds out much later, when the check bounces, that it was a scam and they are responsible for the entire amount.

Be wary of cash wire transfers

Problems that arise from wire transfers are often related to cash wire transfers, like the ones people make via Western Union or MoneyGram. These companies do not verify the identity of either the sender or recipient. So, fraudsters with false identities can easily swoop in to collect money on the other end.

Carefully check the information you put on a wire transfer

One typo could result in money being sent to the wrong person or business.

Check your bank statements regularly

Keep an eye on your bank statements. If there’s a suspicious transaction, inform your bank as soon as possible.

If you have been scammed, file a report

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online or call 1-877-FTC-HELP if you think you may have wired money to a scammer.