Person to person money transfers should be listed as the number one red flag in any international relationship. The number of cases of online romance scams and fraud grows by the day, and one of the means that has made it possible is the direct money wiring services.
Western Union and other similar companies were created (and continue operating) with obviously a different purpose than to facilitate scam, but the truth is that these financial services have helped internet criminals maintain their business for a long time. The companies are not entirely responsible for the scams, after all it is extremely complicated to keep track of the different strategies that fraudsters use and all the different names and people involved. Many critics argue that Western Union has failed to properly verify its transfers.
Online scam victims often think it is safe to send funds via this method because real individuals have to pick up the money, and they will need real ID’s to collect the funds. Although this is true, international private investigators warn that criminal gangs pay people to collect funds for them. The commission is good, the task is pretty easy, and the worst thing that could happen is to have a customer service representative tell them that they cannot give out the funds due to suspicious activity. Fraudsters have nothing to lose, the money is not being tracked like it happens with a bank wire, and the business continues as usual.
There are other factors that make person to person money transfers riskier. Some of the money wiring services have sloppy controls, and in certain countries the people who work for these companies are corrupt. Scammers are allowed to collect Western Union funds without a proper ID, or they are simply ignoring the rules because the person in the cashier’s window has been paid off, or knows the recipient. Whichever is the case, at the end the result is always favorable for internet scammers – they enjoy easy ways to continue with business as usual, while innocent people are duped and left without an option to recovery their hard-earned losses.
A few years ago, the Fair Trade Commission and the Department of Justice announced a settlement with Western Union after the company was sued for their questionable practices. Western Union received over 550,000 complaints about money transfers from 2004 to 2017, but the FTC and Justice Department said the money kept rolling on through without any real changes or attempts to block scammers. In addition to the monetary judgement, Western Union agreed to a comprehensive training program for employees to detect and prevent fraudulent transfers. The FTC order prohibits Western Union from transmitting a money transfer that it knows or reasonably should know is fraud-induced. However, investigators continue to see cases of advance fee fraud and romance scams and other international hoaxes that have the same common factor for sending and receiving money via Western Union.
Keep these recommendations in mind
Keep your eyes open, especially if you are new to online dating and want to avoid scams. When you send money using a person to person transfer service, the recipient can walk into the office, get the cash, and leave. At that point, the money is gone, and there’s no way to reverse or cancel the payment. In many cases, there’s no way to find out who received the money. You might have specified a recipient, and the agent might have asked for identification, but it’s relatively easy for thieves to get around those rules.
Regardless of the company being used to wire the funds, what is more important is to keep in mind that any person to person transfer is not safe. It doesn’t matter if it’s business related, or charity, or any personal relationship. If you want to help someone or you want to pay for a product or service, use secure payment methods like your credit card or bank.
Western Union can be a very convenient service, but you should only use it to wire funds to people you know well and have met in person, and completely trust.
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