If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of consumers tricked by thieves into wiring money via Western Union, now is your chance to get it back. The Federal Trade Commission says victims have until Feb. 12 to file a complaint.
Who’s eligible for restitution and how does it work?
Anyone who lost money to a scammer by paying via Western Union between Jan. 1, 2004 and Jan. 19, 2017 can file a claim.
All claims must be submitted by Feb. 12, 2018.
Each claim must be verified by the Department of Justice. The amount victims get depends on how much they lost and how many victims submit valid claims.
Click here for more details.
How did the scam work?
Mariellen Hallcox knows firsthand just how easy it is to fall victim to these types of scams.
"They said they had my daughter in a basement.," Hallcox recalled. "If you don't give me the money. I'm going to hurt her, I'm going to beat her and I'm going to kill her."
Hallcox wired self-described “kidnappers” several hundred dollars to ensure her daughter’s safe return. A hoax that landed Hallcox on the list of thousands who fell prey to the scams in which the use of wiring services was central.
"He wanted a couple thousand dollars. I said I have $400 cash," Hallcox said.
The wiring service became so central to these scams that 3 years ago the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission launched an investigation to determine what Western Union knew and when, amidst allegations the company did not do enough to protect consumers.
"They knew that their money transfer system was being used by fraudsters, that some of their agents around the world were complicit in the frauds," said Todd Kossow of the Federal Trade Commission.
As part of a settlement agreement with federal agencies, Western Union admitted to failing to maintain an effective anti-laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud. In January, the company agreed to a $586 million settlement. Some of that money is now earmarked to re-pay victims. But with the potential refunds comes another warning from the FTC.
“Scammers follow the news,” Kossow said. “We're fearful that scam artists will be contacting potential consumers offering to help them get a refund through the Western Union process if they pay a fee. Consumers should not pay anyone to help them get a refund."
The FTC says it could take up to a year before consumers get their money back, and points out that only the amount transferred via Western Union is eligible for a refund. Other expenses, like Western Union fees, other losses, or transfers sent through other businesses are not eligible.
In a statement, Western Union said: “We share the government’s goal of protecting consumers and the integrity of our global money transfer network, and we worked hard to resolve these matters with the government.” The Company emphasized: “We are committed to enhancing our compliance programs to prevent illicit activity on our network and protect customers who transfer money to friends, family and businesses.” Adding “Over the past five years, increased overall compliance funding by more than 200 percent, and now spends approximately $200 million per year on compliance, with more than 20 percent of its workforce currently dedicated to compliance functions.”
Click here for the full statement.