Should Western Union Do More To Catch Scammers?

A search for Western Union’s name on Consumerist will bring up a pile of stories about scammers who, with varying levels of success, have attempted to use the money-wiring service as conduit to transmit ill-gotten cash from their victims. While Western Union is certainly not guilty of the crimes committed by these fraudsters, are there steps the company could take to discourage these abuses?

The L.A. Times’ David Lazarus has the story of a man who received the by-now familiar scam e-mail claiming to be from a friend who was trapped in the Philippines and needed cash wired immediately to a Western Union office in Manila.

The man knew the e-mail was bogus, but played along for a bit so that he could provide enough information to Western Union in the hopes that it would be able to set up a sting and nap the scammer.

But when he called WU, he says he was told the company’s hands were tied and he should contact the police. Of course, what could his already understaffed local police department going to do about a scammer in Manila?

A Western Union rep confirmed to Lazarus that the company can’t really intervene in these matters.

“We get calls like this from good, conscientious people who want to do the right thing,” he said. “We’d like to help.”

The rep says that the wired money could have been picked up at any Western Union in the Philippines, not just the one mentioned in the e-mail, so setting up a sting would be impossible. Even if it weren’t, Western Union couldn’t put its employees at risk in such situations, explains the rep.

Currently, all you need is one photo ID to pick up cash, but Western Union could ask for thumb prints, suggests one security expert, pointing out that many banks already require them when cashing checks by people without accounts at that bank.

Lazarus suggests that Western Union takes photos of people who pick up wire transfers. “I think most honest people would accept this as a necessary precaution, just as we put up with all those security hassles when we fly,” he writes. “Most bad guys would probably balk at having to face a camera.”

Western Union has been training employees to identify when a customer may be falling for one of these wire transfer scams. We recently posted about a Connecticut woman who was saved from a “granny scam” by a well-trained clerk operating the Western Union desk inside a Big Y supermarket.

Western Union should at least send scammers a message [L.A. Times]