In January, Western Union, in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), announced it will pay $586 million to scam victims who wired money to fraudsters using Western Union’s services.
According to the FTC, Western Union knowingly executed wire transactions where evidence of financial fraud was present between January 2004 and August 2015.
During this time period, as many as 550,000 complaints were made to the company about scammers fraudulently accepting money for bogus contests and lotteries, loans, dating services, and even impersonating family members.
If this isn’t bad enough, Western Union had its own internal investigations revealing agents who repeatedly paid out to known fraudsters, despite warnings from domestic and international law enforcement.
As part of the settlement, Western Union will also work towards training and building its own anti-fraud system. But in the meantime, if you’ve been a victim of wire fraud through Western Union services between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017, you may be eligible for remission.
Claims are being handled by the DOJ, claim forms have already begun mailing to those who reported a fraud loss to Western Union during this time period. If this applies to you and you receive a claim form in the mail (it will come from Gilardi & Co., the agency the DOJ is using to process these claims), you will need to use the claim ID and PIN provided in the form to file your claim at FTC.gov/WU.
If you have been a victim of wire fraud during this time period via Western Union and have NOT already reported your loss to Western Union (or you never receive your claim form in the mail), you still have time to report your loss and seek compensation. Just go to FTC.gov/WU to begin filing your claim.
If you’ve been a victim, be sure to file your claim for remission before February 12, 2018. This is the cut-off date for all claims.
Wiring money is something you should never ever ever do unless you are 100% certain of the identity and motives of the individual on the receiving end. Wiring money–whether it’s done through Western Union or some other service–is virtually the same thing as handing someone cash. Once the money is sent and picked up, there’s almost never a way to recover the loss or identify the scammer for prosecution.
No reputable agency or business will ask or pressure you to wire money–period. In fact, if a telemarketer asks you to wire money, it’s actually illegal.
Don’t wire money to anyone you don’t know personally for any reason. Be especially suspicious if the person on the other end of the transaction says this is the ONLY way you can pay him or asks you to keep the transaction secret (this happens frequently with the “emergency relative phone call” scam–before you wire cash to your grandchild having an emergency, verify his identity by asking questions only your REAL grandchild would know the answer to).
The FTC offers further tips on how to protect yourself from a wire transfer scammer right here.