01/09/09 - Article No: 53

Western Union and MoneyGram Scams

Age old scams that involve luring victims into handing over cash through money wire services like Western Union are still prevalent on the Internet.

Western Union scams, perhaps surprisingly, are still extremely prolific on the Internet today as they have been for several years now.

The reason for this is that several breeds of online scam utilize the modus operandi of tricking unwitting victims into handing over money via services like Western Union.

Western Union’s international presence and questionable security control make it an ideal conduit for scammers to exploit. The person sending money goes to a Western Union outlet, pays the cashier (or online or through telephone) and the money is transferred to the desired location. The receiver then identifies themselves to the destination Western Union outlet and collects the money.

However when it comes to Western Union scams the scammer picks up the money at the destination outlet with fake identification so they cannot be traced.

TIP: Services like Western Union are only meant for sending money to people you know in person! Never send money this way to people you have never met – it’s too risky!

The scams vary in how they lure a victim to sending money through Western Union. We discuss some examples below.

A New Job!

Luring victims with the prospect of a job is big business for online scammers. With many countries in flailing economic situations the number of people looking for work or more money has risen, and as victims become more desperate for work they too can become more naïve or willing to take risks.

Victims are recruiting online, via unsolicited email, website forums, public listings or job websites, and enticed with flexible hours and good pay. “Interviews” and applications are conducted purely online so the victim never meets in person their new “employer” and payments are sent via checks.

The scam works by baiting the victim into cashing a check and withdrawing the money immediately to send through Western Union. However the check is fake and will eventually bounce, but by the time this happens the victim will already have sent the money through Western Union and it is too late to get it back, leaving them liable for the value of the bounced check.

For example a scammer may claim the victim was accidentally overpaid and request that the excess amount be sent straight back. Another example involves the scammer asserting that it is the victims actual job to cash checks and send on the money through Western Union.

This is check cashing fraud. The tell-tale signs of these scams are clear. Never accept jobs without meeting the people employing you. Never accept payments through check and never wire money to people you’ve never met!

You’ve Won!

Advance Fee Fraud, a.k.a. 419 or Nigerian scams, rely heavily on Western Union as their main conduit to scam victims. These scams are amongst the most popularly known and notorious scams on the Internet yet many still fall foul of them every day.

These scams work by a scammer contacting a victim and informing them that they stand to gain a substantial amount of money. Whether it be an inheritance, a lottery win or a rebate, these scams work by luring victims with the bait of money.

But there’s a catch. For some reason the victim has to pay a small fee to get their hands on the cash. Call it an advance fee, which is to be paid through Western Union. If the victim falls for the ruse then the chances are the scammer will continue to make up other fees and costs. The scam will end when the victim finally realises that there is no big payoff or refuses to pay any more fees.

Again this scam works off the assumption that victims are willing to send money through Western Union that of course you should never do! Be aware however that not all variants of this scam use Western Union.

Public Listing Scams

Those advertising or buying on sites like Gumtree or CraigsList are not immune to scams involving Western Union either. People selling items may themselves get involved in check cashing scams whereby they are sent fake checks that are made out for too much money. The scammer asks that the victim cash the check and send the surplus amount back through Western Union.

Of course when the check bounces the victim is left liable for the money they sent.

Those buying items on such public listing sites should never pay for items through Western Union.

The same applies to E-Bay sellers and buyers who are implored to follow E-Bay approved methods of transaction, which never includes Western Union.

So remember, Western Union is designed to send money to people that you personally know. Never trust people who ask you to send money this way that you have never met, whether it be someone you've met on a public listing site like Craigslist, an "employer" or someone claiming to give you money in return.

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