A Brief Moment of Western Union Logic

Offering a friend a bit of a slump-time bump, today we sent some money via Western Union. Since it was the first time we had used their service, they requested that we call their call center to confirm something. They didn’t state what.

While on the phone Donya asked for us to confirm our address, which we did. She then said she could not approve our transaction, since none of her “public records” confirmed that we lived there—this despite the fact that bank whose debit card we used to pay has sent bills to this address every month for over a year. We asked what public records Western Union used to confirm our authenticity.

“Sir, we don’t have to give out our sources for public records,” stated Donya.

We requested to speak to her manager. Instead, we were put on hold for approximately ten minutes, after which Donya said she would call us back. We hung up. She called back. The transaction was approved.

We can’t tell you how happy we are to know that Western Union’s security system is impermeable enough to require utter secrecy about their “public” sources, but can be short-circuited by confirming that we have indeed stolen our own phone number. It’s simultaneous the worst of both ends of security.


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  1. mrscolex says:

    Since western union might be considered a banking institution, it may fall under the same category for having to determine each person who uses their services much like banks and credit unions do. You can thank the Patriot Act for that one.

    Actually I don’t have an issue with that particular portion of the patriot act, but I was able to chat up a bank employee regarding how their system works– they check the information you give them based on something called an OFAC score. The OFAC score directly correlates with how much personal information they can confirm from their database. I scored 50% recently when I opened up a new account, meaning that fifty percent of my information matched, and I was told that this was a “good” score. (Although I don’t really see how?)

    Every new account verification has to go through an OFAC process and it sounds to me that what you got stuck on was that some pretty important information didn’t match– consumerist isn’t funneling money through terrorist channels with all of their anti wal-mart talk are they? ;)

  2. mrscolex says:

    As a brief addendum, the bank teller I spoke with about OFAC was similarly shy on the exact details and for a few moments actually ignored my questions before she finally relented and mentioned about it being a database that confirms public information based on the patriot act. I wonder if there is some sort of blanket bank policy not to talk about it.