02/06/2014 08:25 BST | Updated 02/08/2014 06:59 BST

Top Six Online Scams to Avoid

Money transfer is a great way to send money quickly and conveniently to friends and loved ones, but just as you wouldn't hand an envelope of cash to a stranger, you should never transfer money to someone you have never met in person. You would be surprised by how many people do not follow this one key rule.

Defrauded individuals are not just the easily duped; the criminal groups who are often behind these scams are organised and skillful to the extent that even the savvy and culturally aware can be deceived. Advanced technology has facilitated the fraudsters, arming them with tools to better mask themselves and make their scams appear more legitimate. The rise of social media has provided them with yet another layer to hide behind as genuine-looking profiles that link across several different social sites add to a story's credibility.

At Western Union we take consumer fraud very seriously. We know our consumers work very hard for their money and we want it to go to good use. Each year we commit significant resources - in funding, people and technology- to fighting fraud and protecting consumers around the globe. Alongside an extensive awareness programme run in conjunction with government agencies and consumer groups, we have a number of initiatives in place specifically designed to help prevent fraud, including consumer warnings on the company website and cautionary materials at Agent locations. Yet it is an unfortunate reality that fraudsters will use legitimate services such as ours to perpetrate their frauds.

May 2014 was the Citizens Advice Bureau's Scams Awareness Month, and we believe that some of the best tools to protect yourself against fraud are education and awareness. To this end, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the latest trends in scams, and below are six scams we are seeing the most of:

Online relationships: A con-artist takes the time to befriend victims online and then requests money for a plausible-sounding reason, such as for airfares or help with financial difficulties.

Computer anti-virus scams: A scammer posing as a software company representative calls to sell victims what is in fact free anti-virus software, and may also try to gain access to their computer and contacts.

Advance fee/prepayment: A fraudster asks victims to make payments in advance for services or financial gains which never arrive. Common examples are requests for money for visa updates, FOREX trading, electricity meters or loans.

Internet purchases: Victims are told to send money for a product, auction item or service to the seller. The fraudster will use a number of tactics to make you believe they are legitimate, but once the victim sends the money the purchased item or service will never materialise. Common examples to beware of include iPhones, timeshares, cars, concert tickets and even puppies.

Lottery / prize scams: Victims are informed through an unsolicited communication they have won a large lottery prize or sweepstakes. The victim receives a cheque for part of the winnings from the fraudster and is told to pay a small amount to cover taxes and/or processing fees. The victim uses the cheque to pay for the taxes or processing fees and is left responsible for the bounced cheque.

Rental Property scams: A scammer advertises a rental property, often at a considerable discount. This allows them to receive as many replies or inquiries as possible. The fraudster goes to great lengths to make this property look as legitimate as possible and might include details such as pictures and floor plans. The fraudster will then ask you to wire money for a deposit, to verify funds, or for other legitimate sounding reasons in order to prove your interest in the property.

Trends in scams are constantly changing as scammers develop new methods and make use of new technologies. It's important to remember that these fraudsters will try to play off your emotions and altruistic tendencies towards loved ones. In such situations, however legitimate they may seem, remember three basic money transfer 'never evers':

  • Never use a money transfer service to send money to someone you have not met in person.
  • Never send money for an emergency situation without verifying that it's a real emergency; ignore the caller's plea not to tell others; confirm through other friends and family.
  • Never send funds received by cheque until the cheque officially clears in your account, which can take several days, or even weeks.