$586 million nationwide fund to benefit consumers
AUSTIN – Attorney General Ken Paxton yesterday announced that the refund program for the Western Union settlement in January 2017 is now underway. Approximately 39,000 Texans may be eligible for refunds, which will be distributed from a $586 million nationwide fund to benefit consumers who were deceived into sending payments to fraudsters using Western Union’s wire transfer service.
“Scam artists are always looking for new ways to fool people into wiring them money, including schemes involving deceiving people into believing they are speaking with family members, romantic interests, lotteries or contests,” Attorney General Paxton said. “These fraudsters will be held accountable for their abuse of hardworking Texans.”
These fraudsters contacted consumers and sometimes posed as family members in distress who needed money to be wired to them and other times falsely promised to provide prizes, job opportunities or credit services to consumers. Texans who believe they were a victim of these fraud related money transfers between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017 are eligible to recover refunds through this settlement and may submit a claim (called a Remission Form) by going to the website of the Settlement Administrator here: www.westernunionremission.com. All claims must be submitted on or before February 12, 2018.
The global settlement requiring Western Union to forfeit $586 million dollars was entered with the Federal Trade Commission and U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The related multistate settlement included Texas, 49 other states and the District of Columbia. The settlement is being administered by the DOJ’s Victim Asset Recovery Program.
“If you used our money transfer service and believe the transaction was fraudulent, call us immediately,” the Western Union fraud website says. “Tell us what happened.”
“We want to help—and the only way we can is if you contact us. It’s easy–our toll free number in the U.S. is 800-448-1492.”
“If your transaction has been paid and you wish to let Western Union know about your situation you can complete our online form to file a fraud report. The reports that we receive allow us to better track scams and help others from falling victim in the future.”
Types of Scams
Advanced fees / prepayment
Scammers pose as representatives from phony loan companies and use authentic-looking documents, emails, and websites to appear legitimate. They charge “fees” in advance of making loans. Consumers pay, but the loans never come through. Scammers are long gone and they sometimes regularly change the name of their “businesses” to avoid law enforcement.
This is one variation of a scam called the “advance fee” or “prepayment” scam. Scammers can also lure victims in with promises of investments or inheritance gifts in exchange for a fee. But it all comes down to the same theme: Victims pay money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value and then receive little or nothing in return.
Mystery shopping scams are popular with criminals who target employment websites. The ploy’s simple: Scammers send victims a check and tell them to use the funds to “evaluate” Western Union’s money transfer service. Victims wire the money only to find out later that the checks bounce and they’re responsible for paying the bank back.
With overpayment scams, fraudsters play the role of buyer and target consumers selling a service or product. The “buyer” sends the seller a legitimate-looking check, usually drawn on a well-known bank, for an amount higher than the agreed-upon price. They contact an explanation for this overpayment and instruct the seller to deposit the check and wire back the excess funds. Weeks later, the victim learns the check is fake, but is still on the hook to pay the bank back for any money withdrawn.
Employment scams generally start with a too-good-to-be-true offer—work from home and earn thousands of dollars a month, no experience needed—and end with consumers out of a ‘job’ and out of money. They generally follow one of three patterns:
1. Scammers pose as a new ‘employer’ and send victims a check to cover up-front expenses, like supplies. Victims deposit the check, buy the necessary supplies and wire any remaining funds back to the scammer. Weeks later, they find out the checks are fake and they’re on the hook for the entire amount.
2. Scammers pose as ‘recruiters’ pitching offers of guaranteed employment or as ‘employers’ extending job offers on the condition that victims pay up front for things like credit checks or application or recruitment fees. Victims pay, but job offers never materialize.
3. Scammers pose as ‘company’ representatives and seek sensitive personal and/or financial information from victims under the guise of doing credit or background checks. They then target victims later on for identity theft.
Lottery / prize
Lottery or prize scams follow two similar patterns:
1. A victim gets an unsolicited phone call, email, letter or fax from someone claiming to work for a government agency or representing a well-known organization or celebrity, notifying them that they’ve won a lot of money or a prize. The scammer gains their trust and explains that, in order to collect the winnings, they first have to send a small sum of money to pay for processing fees or taxes. Following these instructions, victims immediately wire the money, but never get their “winnings.” And they’re out the money they paid for “fees and taxes.”
2. Victims get an unsolicited check or money order and directions to deposit the money, and immediately wire a portion of it back to cover processing fees or taxes. Weeks later, victims learn that the checks are counterfeit, but have already wired the money to cover the “taxes” and can’t get it back. And they’re on the hook to pay their banks back for any money they withdrew.
Sophisticated scammers use the Internet, and particularly free classified websites, to prey on unsuspecting real estate victims. Rental property scams generally happen in one of two ways:
1. Renters are looking for a house or an apartment to lease and get scammed by an “owner.” Victims come across a place in a great area, at a great price. The advertisement looks legitimate so they start communicating with the “owner,” generally by email. The owner says the place is theirs if they wire money to cover an application fee, security deposit, etc. They wire the money, and then never hear from the “owner” again.
2. Owners are renting out their house or apartment and get scammed by a “renter.” “Renters” contact victims, generally by email, and express interest in renting the house or apartment. Scammers send a check for the deposit but then cancel the deal. Victims wire the money back only to find out the check was a fake.
Emergency / grandparent
Emergency scams play off of peoples’ emotions and strong desire to help others in need. Scammers impersonate their victims and make up an urgent situation—I’ve been arrested, I’ve been mugged, I’m in the hospital—and target friends and family with urgent pleas for help, and money.
Emergency scams also come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the Grandparent Scam where con artists contact the elderly claiming to be their grandchild, urgently asking for money. And the Social Networking Scam where con artists hack into social networking accounts and then target friends with frantic requests for money, claiming injury, arrest, etc.; they do the same by hacking email accounts. They use the information in these accounts to supply enough personal detail to make their requests appear legitimate.
In the internet purchase scam, criminals prey on victims who bid on items using an online auction website or service. It generally plays out in one of two ways:
1. Victims win the bid, which is likely a sham or set up, and are told the seller only accepts money transfers for payment. The seller tells the buyer to put the transaction in a fictitious name, or the name of a loved one. Scammers convince victims this protects their money until the goods or services are received. The seller then creates a false ID in the fictitious name and retrieves the funds. The merchandise never arrives.
2. The other variation is when the original auction is legitimate but the victims don’t win the bid. They’re contacted later on by another party offering to sell them the same item under similar terms and instructed to wire the money as payment. The money is sent but the buyer never receives the goods.
The relationship scam starts simply: A man and woman meet on the Internet. The relationship progresses: They email, talk on the phone, and trade pictures. And, finally, they make plans to meet, and even to get married. As the relationship gets stronger, things start to change. The man asks the woman to wire him money; he needs bus fare to visit a sick uncle. The first wire transfer is small but the requests keep coming and growing—his daughter needs emergency surgery, he needs airfare to come for a visit, etc. The payback promises are empty; the money’s gone, and so is he.
Fake checks play a starring role in lots of different scams: advance fee or prepayment scams; mystery shopping scams; lottery prize scams, and more. Victims get an unsolicited check or money order and directions to deposit the money and immediately wire a portion of it back to cover various expenses, like processing fees or taxes. Weeks later, victims learn that the checks are counterfeit, but they’ve already wired the money and can’t get it back. And they’re on the hook to pay their banks back for any money they withdrew.
A fraudster contacts the victim claiming that they are from a well-known computer or software company and have detected a virus on the victim’s PC. The fraudster advises that the virus can be removed for a small fee with a payment by either credit card or an online money transfer. The fraudster then requests remote access to the victim’s computer to install anti-virus software to remove the virus. Unfortunately, the fraudster uses this access to take control of the victim’s computer to install software and malware. The fraudster may also steal credit card information that is on the computer and use it to complete online money transfer transactions.