Georgia Watch has written before about the various methods scammers use to separate you from your money. One popular method gaining attention involves Western Union, one of the most popular money transfer companies in the world. Western Union has now agreed to pay $586 million to the U.S. government and victims of fraud due to their inaction in addressing the rampant abuse of their services. If you were a victim of a scam like the ones described below, you have until May 31, 2018 to file a claim.
The scams often go something like this: you are selling something online and a “buyer” sends you a check for too much money and requests that you wire them the difference via Western Union. You send them the money and the product but since wire transfer is much faster than the check validation process, by the time you realize their check is not backed, it is too late. The scam also can take the shape of you purchasing something online and the “seller” asks to be paid via Western Union. With this scam, they get the money, but you never receive the item. Another common version has a scammer calling or emailing you posing as a distant family member or friend in need of money and asking for a wire transfer. The need is so urgent that you don’t have time to check with family or friends before the money disappears along with the imposter.
Western Union is the service of choice for scammers because the process for receiving a money transfer is so simple: one can often walk in, provide a name, and walk out with the cash. Requiring identification is not consistently enforced, especially internationally; this makes tracking the scammer next to impossible.
In recent years, Western Union received more than 550,000 complaints from people claiming to be the victims of this type of fraud, and despite warnings from law enforcement agencies in numerous countries and red flags from their own employees, the fraudulent transfers continued with little response by the company. The FTC said in January of 2017 that “Western Union has known for years that scammers were using its system to commit significant fraud. Even when faced with clear evidence that many of its agents were committing fraud, Western Union kept taking people’s money”.
Now, because of a joint investigation by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, Western Union agreed to make numerous changes aimed at making transferring money more secure including the creation of an anti-fraud department and blocking transfers to individuals with a fraud report.
Western Union has also agreed to a $586 million settlement which will be used to reimburse consumers who were victims of fraud. If you believe you lost money to fraud via a Western Union money transfer between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017 you have until May 31, 2018 to file a claim. To submit a claim and for more information about the case, follow this link to the Federal Trade Commission’s Western Union Refund website.
Written by: Trey Cason, Georgia Watch