Many Americans are learning they need to be extra careful when wiring money, as criminals come up with new ways to pilfer their cash. And once that money is sent, it is almost impossible to reverse the transaction or trace it to its final destination.

While sending money to a friend or loved one in a jam is completely appropriate, sending money to a complete stranger is not, the . How can you spot a scam? The federal agency suggests never wiring money to someone you have not met in person.

Yet, one popular method con artists use is telling people they are friend or relative who is in a bad situation – often in a foreign jail or hospital – and needs money but wants to keep it a secret from the rest of the family, according to the FTC. Sometimes this is someone claiming to be the family member, government official or a defense lawyer. Verify this story, the federal agency said. Get in touch with other family members, ask the caller or person emailing the request personal questions only you or the "relative" would know. Get law enforcement involved, too, to help gather the facts, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller . Sometimes these schemes can be called "grandparent scams" because they target elderly family members.

members against such scams. Since 2010, the FTC has received more than 40,000 complaints about these types of schemes, costing victims tens of millions of dollars. Scammers gather phone numbers from online telephone directories or purchased lists that sometimes will include a person's age. Personal information about the victim or the relative they are trying to portray can also be collected from social networking sites and other online sources, AARP said.

Fraudulent wire transfers can be devastating to victims, who often lose nest eggs and retirement funds. High net-worth individuals who conduct wire transfers on a regular basis may be at greater risk.

To protect against identity theft and losing out on money, AARP said never provide the caller with a bank account or credit card number over the phone. Another tip is telling the scammer you will call them back on his or her home or cellphone, the source said.

Other money transfer funds to recognize
Lottery and sweepstakes scams are also popular, according to the FTC. Such scams tell people they have "just won a foreign lottery!" and all they have to do to get the prize is wire money to pay for the taxes and fees. However, victims soon find out the "lottery" check they received is fake – some maybe too late if their money is already wired to the scammer.

Consumers also need to be careful with shopping online. If a retailer or seller asks you to provide a money transfer to pay for an item, the FTC said this is a red flag.

"No matter what story the seller tells you, insisting on a money transfer is a signal that you won't get the item – or your money back," the FTC said on its website.

Matt Cullina is chief executive officer of IDentity Theft 911.

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