Deadline Looms for Scam Victims to Get Money Back from Western Union
If you, a friend, or a relative, were scammed by a con artist and sent hard-earned money by a Western Union wire transfer, there is a real chance of getting that money back — but only if you act quickly.
February 12, 2018 is the final date to submit a claim form to the Federal Trade Commission. Western Union has set aside $586 million dollars to repay consumers who used their wire transfer service. However, only those who sent and lost money between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017 are eligible to receive a refund. (For information on how to file a claim: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2017/11/getting-your-money-back-western-union)
The repayment fund results from a lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice and the FTC. Among other counts, Western Union was charged with not supervising employees and not sufficiently educating customers about the various schemes that con artists use to successfully scam the public. The essence of the lawsuit, explained Todd Kossow, the director of the FTC’s Midwest Region who also supervised the litigation, is that Western Union “did not do enough to protect people.”
In a teleconference briefing for ethnic media sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission, Kossow was joined by Lois Greisman, the FTC’s Associate Director, Division of Marketing Services.
Kossow walked attendees through the “how to” of filing a claim. That information is readily available on the FTC website with clearly marked options to assist those who have already filed a claim and those who will be rushing to meet the February deadline.
There are a few important things to note. While the Department of Justice will seek to verify each claim, it will also check with the U.S. Treasury Offset Program to see if the claimant owes money to the U.S. government. In addition, the actual amount paid out to each claimant will not only depend on verification, but also on how many valid claims are received.
Most individuals filing a claim in the United States will likely have an SSN (Social Security Number) or an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), but even non-U.S. citizens who have neither can file a claim.
One reporter sought assurances that individuals with an unresolved immigration status would not be putting themselves at risk to actions by other federal agencies. Kossow explained that the Department of Justice “operates the [claim} website” and that the customer information provided is “used only for this purpose and not shared with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or for any other purpose.” Ultimately, Kossow said, “It is their choice whether they want to file a claim.”
Both Kossow and Greisman addressed the nature of various scams. For grandparents, it may have been an e-mail from a grandchild that said: “I’m in trouble. I’m in a foreign country. I need money.” For those who thought they had won a sweepstakes, a scam artist may have convinced them to wire money to pay the taxes due before they could collect the non-existent prize.
And the scammers are scattered across the globe. Jamaicans have become associated with the sweepstakes scam; Nigerians with the romance scam, where long-distance love affairs may result in multiple transfers of money.
Western Union has a huge international footprint and offers other financial services as well. The settlement with the FTC and DOJ is limited only to the use of the company’s wire transfer services. The opportunity for consumers to get reimbursement from wire transfer frauds is rare, Kossow noted, because the money can be digitally moved so quickly it is hard to trace and recover. “Most people will lose their money with no chance of getting it back.”
Ethnic communities are prime targets for fraud, according to the FTC’s 2016 data, compounded by the fact that fraud is an under-reported crime. Greisman said continuing consumer education is the key to combatting it. Victims need to call the FTC with complaints so the agency can build fraud profiles as well as detect emerging and ever shifting trends in scam techniques. (For fraud complaints, call the Federal Trade Commission: 877-FTC-HELP.)
Greisman said she is sure that scammers’ “eyes opened wide” when they heard or read about the pot of $586 million. “Be wary of anyone who says they can assist you in filing a claim ‘so you can get your money back,’” she cautioned, because nobody has to put up any upfront money to go through the claims process. “Say ‘no’,” Greisman reiterated, to requests of this nature. “All they want is your money.”
For information on the settlement, go to: FTC’s settlement with Western Union.