Don’t send money by Western Union?

Apologies in advance to Western Union (a useful service used by many people to send money home to their families in countries where many people do not have access to banking). However, this post is about why you should not send money to people to you don’t know using Western Union.

The scam

You are looking for somewhere to live (you can substitute free puppy dogs, cars, trunks of gold bullion or pretty much anything else where you can get scammed for a payment in advance).  You find an ad with a place that looks great and is well-priced and ask for more information. This scam can work in reverse, where you post an ad saying you are looking and then they get in contact with you.

The gang

Scammers split up the responsibilities and work in teams. The people doing the legwork of posting the ads and making first contacts with people are usually sat in an Internet café in Western Africa. Once a lead is generated, someone else (usually with better English) will take over to work the scam. Payment will then usually be picked up by a ‘mule’, which gets a commission for the risk of picking up the cash (usually with fake identification), but who might not be able to reveal the real guys running the scam factory.

The bait

Whatever is on offer is usually a bargain. This means you will be told there are lots of other people asking for it or some other reason why you need to make them ‘confident’ you are really going to take the offer.

The reel

Things start to get difficult for the scammer with questions like, “can I see the flat” or “I would prefer to pay the deposit when I arrive”. However, these guys are pros and sick mothers appear or they have had to go on an urgent assignment to the other side of the world and can send the keys by Fedex. The story might sound a bit weird, but they have built up some trust with the victim and – after all – it does sound like a great flat!

The sting

Can you send the money by Western Union to Mr X, Street Y, City Z? Maybe, you offer to pay with a bank transfer, but you hear the sick mother/cousin/aunt doesn’t want to give out her bank details because she was scammed in the past (this is a nice touch with some reverse psychology in there). At this point some people ignore any doubts they have and go and send the money.

If you send money to a bank account, this is linked with an account and banks mostly have decent proceedures to make opening an accout linked to a physical person. Although some scammers do get their hands on real bank accounts this is relatively rare. The important thing is that the banking system does have processes in place to reverse transactions and follow up on fraud.

Western Union, however, pay cash out to someone identifying themselves with the transfer number and some sort of ID. This is a non-recourse transaction, meaning that once you have sent the money and it has been collected you cannot get it back. Scammers use fake ID to collect and the only trace might be some blurred CCTV pictures in the shop where the money is collected. The perfect theft.

Stay safe!

Use common sense and don’t enter into transactions where you have the slightest suspicion of the other party. We have written some more about common scams and frauds here. At Just Landed, we are working hard to detect fraud with both automatic and manual processes and keep the bad guys off the site.  We catch a lot,  but despite all our efforts, some of the more clever scammers are still sometimes getting through, so we continue to work on the problem. We will also be adding some more information for users to help get them more informed and protect themselves.

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andy says:

Western Union is a convenient payment, trust, trade, and I still use them!

Generally, when looking to transfer money abroad, i would look at 2 things – Whether they are regulated by the FSA and whether they are registered by HMRC.
The latter is important because it ensures that the company has a ‘back office’ or a compliance department that deals with checks and other important things in order to prevent money laundering from taking place.
So it’s in your interest to know whether a company has this as it confirms that they are legit and authentic.

Lito Lipad says:

Beginning January 2010 it has become pain in the neck to send money online via Western Union because they now employ Manila-based call center manned by ignorants to verify who you are from asking what’s your social security number. At no time I never gave out my social security number to Western Union but why they’re now asking?

Great post here , nice do learn about scams