Western Union steps up the fight against fraud

Since the launch of NetSafe’s online reporting button last August, we’ve gained an interesting insight into the types of offences being committed online.

I can’t say we’ve cornered the market on ‘online crime reporting’ (strictly speaking many reports are about things which are not classified as crimes in NZ). I’m also sure what we see is only the tip of the iceberg but none the less theorb.org.nz has given NetSafe the ability to track and share with our partners intelligence about online incident trends.

Since August 2010, New Zealand internet user complaints have focused on 3 main areas: buying/selling cars; advanced fee style romance scams and appeals for emergency cash from friends overseas.

All 3 of these have often had one name in common: Western Union. The company itself, it’s important to note, should remain blameless. Western Union is simply a money transfer network that is seen as essential by many migrant workers sending money home to their families.

The problem is this simple system has been exploited by criminal gangs keen to make use of this ease of transfer, especially when they are able to take advantage of trusting Kiwis. We’ve given an example of these 3 common scams below.

Today we met with representatives from Western Union who briefed us on the issue and showed the newly designed form customers will fill out to send or receive money.

There’s now a sigWestern Union fraud warning textnificant area given over to Crime Stoppers contact details and information about money transfer fraud including the bold text: “Your funds could be at risk if you do not know the person you are sending to”.

This is a great move by the company so I hope it prompts first time customers to take the time to read the advice and consider the request to send money this way, outside of the slower banking system where it’s easier to trace and stop payments once sent. Click on the picture to view the full form advice.

3 example scams

  1. Many people like the advantages of selling their car privately online – however if an overseas buyer starts discussing forwarding shipping payments for your vehicle to their agent run a mile. They may want to deposit extra money with you for you to personally send on to their transport company (often by Western Union).This is a clear signal that the money or card being used to fund the car purchase is most likely stolen and once you send funds on to the agent you’ll find the full sum reclaimed or dismissed by your bank and you out of pocket several thousand dollars. You can find more info and advice on Autotrader.co.nz
  2. You’ve just met the man or woman of your dreams online and after a month or two of emails or online chat sessions you feel you know and trust the person so when they ask you for money to cover a visa, a medical issue or to come visit take a minute to think and read through the romance and dating scam advice from the Ministry of Consumer Affairs before you wire money overseas.
  3. When checking your email a new urgent message has arrived from a friend or family member saying they’re stuck in London, have had their wallet stolen and need cash urgently could you send some via money transfer? This is social phishing – a scam email asking for you to send money but coming direct it would appear from a trusted contact you know.Again, before you head off to wire money through using the details given try and make contact with the person some other way or with other family members in NZ who can confirm the story. It’s more than likely the sender’s email has been hacked and the criminal is now bulk mailing their webmail contacts to try their luck.

Educate yourself about online scams

NetSafe launched the Scam Machine, a great website last year to help you learn about the hooks used to extract cash from many different situations. Check out this video starring Mauriese Lessmann from the 7N news channel to understand how the romance scam works.

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3 thoughts on “Western Union steps up the fight against fraud”

  1. Western Union could do more to discourage crime. After a fraud has happen they do not call the pick up location and notify them that their site was used for fraud. Therefore the same criminals can continue to use that location over and over for pick. WU needs to do more!!

  2. Hi Jodi, when we met with Western Union staff they did give us an overview of their internal security measures and it would seem they have plenty of resources identifying patterns around fraud (locations and routes) and are proactive at contacting law enforcement. Do they speak with the location every time? I don’t know but perhaps it’s easier to track and trace these activities if the people on the ground aren’t aware

  3. I was a 1st time WU user and I sent money to a “shipping agent” in Malaysia.

    I am currently out of pocket over 10k thanks to the Western Union lady who should have done a better job considering she asked me if I was first time user and why I was sending money to Kuala Lumpur.

    I told her I was a 1st time user and that I was selling my car and I was told to send a shipping fee to kuala lumpur on behalf of the buyer.

    Her next question was have u been there to which I replied no. Her reply was Oh its such a beautiful city!

    That’s poor service considering they know of these scams! Putting a small notice at the end of their form isn’t enough!

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