Western Union Makes Cash-Broke Ex Play The Waiting Game

Wiring money has gotten a lot more difficult since September 11th. This we know, and many of us are willing to put up with the more convoluted process. Still, when you’re caught in the looping bowels of that convoluted process during an emergency, and companies like Western Union treat you like a criminal as you try to get cash to a loved one, you start wondering if terrorists are the ones really being inconvenienced.

Read Cior wrote us in about just such an experience she had with Western Union when she tried to wire money to an ex-boyfriend who was in dire financial straits. After sending the money, Western Union found they could not “verify” any of her previous addresses, even though Cior has used any and all of them to conduct business with Western Union. Ultimately, her payment was caught up in transaction limbo, thanks to a terrible and opaque process that saw responsibility for the freezed payment toseed back and forth between Western Union and her bank like a frisbee. Her email, after the jump.

Broke up with my boyfriend, moved across the country. He goes on an international trip, returns, finds himself broke. Me, being the softy, agrees to help. Time is of the essence, bank wire transfers involve a delay. I’m willing to pay the fees, so I turn to Western Union.

I go online, place a request to Send Money Fast! and dump a not-insignificant number of hundreds into their hands. Instead of getting a confirmation, I get a notice informing me that I have to call them for additional verification before they can send the money.

So I call, and am asked for my name and address. I provide it. They say that their computer can’t verify my address. They ask for a previous address. I provide it. They say that their computer can’t verify my address. We go through this routine until I’m reaching for street and apartment numbers I used way back in 1995. None of them verify.

Let’s rewind for a moment. I’m a normal citizen, have owned homes, have had a checking account since childhood, pay my taxes and have used all of the addresses I provided to Western Union for official business. That they can’t verify any of them appalls me.

It’s around this point in the call where they start dealing with me as if I were a fraudster. Tone changes, everything gets cool and icy. They are unable to help and refuse to process my request to send funds. Fine, they’re allowed to be asshats.

Here’s where it gets good. I call my bank to relay my experience and see if it might’ve been something on their end that held up the process. They inform me that a pre-authorization hold was made against my account for the amount I tried to send, and that they approved it. Furthermore, they tell me that the pre-authorization will stay on my account for 3-5 business days.

Remember that part about not-insignificant amount of money I was trying to send? I still have to send it, my ex is still in trouble, and now I’m temporarily out for twice of what I intended to lend.

I call Western Union to request that they remove the pre-authorization, seeing as they declined to complete the transaction. They give me a story about how they take care of situations like these by sending a fax to my bank, and that my bank would be responsible for processing it in their own time. I go along with the process, give them my bank (BofA, as per Consumerist suggestion) and everything pauses. Apparently, BofA is “the only bank that will not accept Western Union faxes.” They then inform me that my bank can remove this hold, which I know to be a lie. Several phone calls later, a lot of pleading, a lot of disgruntledness, I am still beholden to Western Union for a lot of money for a period of 3-5 business days.

The pre-authorization hold dropped off my account in 5 business days exactly, during which period I fretted about money a great deal.

Western Union was never kind on the phone, treated me as if I were a fraud, held my money for 5 business days and lied to me about how I could’ve resolved the situation. When complaining, politely, I was treated with a lot of disrespect as well — cause, you know, I’m a fraud.

There’s that. Put that in your blog. I took great delight in informing Western Union that I’d publish an account of their poor service on the internet. You’ve received my first dispatch.

Comments

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  1. Magister says:

    Lesson learned. Avoid guys that can’t support themselves. He can afford an international trip but can’t even feed himself?

    Why didn’t you just transfer funds to his account instead of using the ghetto Western Union? Assuming he isn’t just the lowest of trash, he should at least have a bank account. You should be able to just transfer money from your account to his right?

    I thought Western Union was only used to send bond money.

  2. badcustomer says:

    There must have been a great deal recently on high horses, since everyone around here seems to have one. Look, sometimes there are circumstances that lead to less than ideal situations. This happens to everyone. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t at least dealt with some kind of deadbeat ex, shady landlord, or dubious credit card company. These are the pitfalls of the social contract. Some bad people try to game the system and some good people don’t have the experience or good sense to avoid being taken advantage of.

    I think the writer of the above letter didn’t write in to this site to get told what a naive dope she is by the collective consumerist commenting establishment. I’m sure she feels bad enough about this whole thing without being told by complete strangers how messed up her personal life is.

  3. locomariachi says:

    Okay while yes, you shouldn’t be a too big of a softy, it is commendable to help those you still care about no? As for WU, man those guys do one screw job after another. I have a friend who’s venture capitalist business involves wire transfers everynow and then of maybe a few thousand dollars or what not, but the tone they take, and how they treat people who wire money is ridiculous.
    You pay the fees for there services and you then the worst part is they still try to screw you about saying “oh its your bank” or “we can’t do anything, you’re on our list” (which they actually apparently have lists for people who start sending amounts over $800USD several times) They also say things like “oh we can’t help you and yes even my friend with one visit to a Western Union, they could not verify his addy’s even though he had already done a wiretransfer earlier in the day. It’s pretty upsetting to say the least. I’m sorry that this happened to you, I feel your pain, stupid WU =

  4. cior says:

    Being generous with people you care about depends a lot on how much you make it your business to know why they need the money and how they intend to use it. As far as the ex is concerned, I was happy to help. Circumstance was interesting, but really.. that’s not the point.

    Wire transfers, as we all know, work brilliantly if both parties use the same bank. We don’t. This means I have to go in person to my branch, fill out a lot of forms, pay a fee not unsimilar to what Western Union charges and then wait-wait-wait for them to decide to send the transfer. A lot of my bank’s timing depends on how early I can make the request, I often miss the 2pm cut-off due to work commitments.

    Suffice it to say, I needed to send money fast. That’s what Western Union is for, in my mind. They alleged that I’d be able to do this online and that it would be instant. I never expected that a ridiculous amount of verification would be required or that their database would be so woefully retarded.

    What I really take offense at is the notion that they put a pre-authorization on my account before they could commit to sending the money. That my bank approved the transaction only serves to piss me off more. Their inability to remove the pre-auth hold and their lack of polite customer service really took the cake.

  5. vanessaww says:

    Actually, banks can lift the pre-authorization hold. At least my bank (Amsouth, in the Southern states) can and will. Whenever I check into a hotel, they ask for a card to put down for incidentals – and the hotel will usually pre-auth a ‘deposit.’ I have learned to call my bank right away to ask them to remove it. They always warn me that the hold is lifted and that money is available to me immediately – but if the hotel charges the card for actual monies, it will go through. I think BoA just didn’t want to, which is just further evidence of how much they suck.

  6. alternate moral of the story- women can’t handle money either.

    the writer didn’t say why the guy was broke, just that he was. maybe someone in the family died. maybe his car got stolen. maybe shit happened.

    i’m not saying the guy isn’t a bum, but the assumption rankles.

    i’ve never used western union just because the process always seemed kinda shady. i don’t trust my own bank with my money, i’m not about to trust a third party.

  7. synergy says:

    Depending on how much money we’re talking about, I’d just go to the post office and buy a money order(s) then mail it overnight with signature confirmation.

  8. TRip says:

    My gosh, I know how you feel. I’ve used to use Western Union and I’m not afraid to say it’s the worst business I’ve ever dealt with. Even Pawn shops don’t come close to how low Western Union is.

    I’ve used them only 4 times in my whole life and hope to never use them again. The list of screw ups one after another just keep adding. For my business, I’ve wire money to China just to find out that they mispelled the name and it was a costful mistake on their part (Lucky them it I indemn them for liabilities in the back fine print.)

    then there is the part where they treat you rudely, on the phone and even at the locations. The one I went in Montreal treated me like I was a criminal. Every Western Union I’ve been to has a bulletproof glass, hundreds of cameras (figure of speech), a person sitting next to a phone and so on. Even my bank doesn’t have any of these. Not even the head branch downtown has a bulletproof window.

    They make you feel unwelcome and the people also make you feel unwelcome. Everyone just looks at you like your about to take a gun out and rob them, believe me I also look at it that way. Everytime I hear the door open, I start to shake.

    If that wasn’t enough, there is the part where the employees have to take your ID’s and photocopy them or something, you just cannot see. Even cancelling their prepaid Mastercards is a pain in the arse, they hold me in the store for 20 minutes or more, ask for id to photocopy or something just to tell me I have to call Mastercard to have it cancelled. Really smart.

    That why I’d recommend you avoid at all cost western union and it’s scumbag equivalent. These people are nothing but crooks and fraudsters. They commit highway robbery and take advantage of others. It cost 3.99% in commission to cash a check, my bank does it for a flat fee or for nothing if it’s part of the free transactions I get per month.

  9. TRip says:

    My gosh, I know how you feel. I’ve used to use Western Union and I’m not afraid to say it’s the worst business I’ve ever dealt with. Even Pawn shops don’t come close to how low Western Union is.

    I’ve used them only 4 times in my whole life and hope to never use them again. The list of screw ups one after another just keep adding. For my business, I’ve wire money to China just to find out that they mispelled the name and it was a costful mistake on their part (Lucky them it I indemn them for liabilities in the back fine print.)

    then there is the part where they treat you rudely, on the phone and even at the locations. The one I went in Montreal treated me like I was a criminal. Every Western Union I’ve been to has a bulletproof glass, hundreds of cameras (figure of speech), a person sitting next to a phone and so on. Even my bank doesn’t have any of these. Not even the head branch downtown has a bulletproof window.

    They make you feel unwelcome and the people also make you feel unwelcome. Everyone just looks at you like your about to take a gun out and rob them, believe me I also look at it that way. Everytime I hear the door open, I start to shake.

    If that wasn’t enough, there is the part where the employees have to take your ID’s and photocopy them or something, you just cannot see. Even cancelling their prepaid Mastercards is a pain in the arse, they hold me in the store for 20 minutes or more, ask for id to photocopy or something just to tell me I have to call Mastercard to have it cancelled. Really smart.

    That why I’d recommend you avoid at all cost western union and it’s scumbag equivalent. These people are nothing but crooks and fraudsters. They commit highway robbery and take advantage of others. It cost 3.99% in commission to cash a check, my bank does it for a flat fee or for nothing if it’s part of the free transactions I get per month. The wiring is at 3-4%, my bank only charges a ridiculous $30 for anything.

  10. mb14uk says:

    If Billy the Kid had walked into a Western Union office in Mesilla, New Mexico back in the early days he would have been able to transfer his ill-gotten gains by telegraph in a matter of minutes, if not seconds.

    Yesterday I tried to transfer monety to a loved one in Mesilla, New Mexico online from Kent in England. I was told that I had to call up to confirm some details, got through to a call centre in Ireland and was spoken to by a very efficient-sounding German woman called Yvonne, who started treating me as if I were a criminal by aking all kinds of details about my home phone number and how it wasn’t coming up in the records she was using (the record of free-for-all privatisation in the UK explains why there is no comprehensive telephone directory there these days). I was put on hold for ten minutes and eventually spoken to by a mild-mannered but somewhat patronising supervisor called Tim. He explained helpfully that I should go through the whole online process again, then call them again when I got to the page asking me to call them (!). He would then be able to confirm my transaction. I did this and was diverted to another number which belonged to a completely different service organisation which dealt with the online side of Western Union’s business.

    So much for the benefits of globalisation and the free market.

    Perhaps I should just put the cash in an envelope and send it by airmail.