Prayers answered: wire fraud victims getting their money back

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Consumer watchdogs have been saying it for years: never send money by wire transfer unless you absolutely know who it is going to because anyone who has the transaction code can steal it, and once the money is stolen there is little to no chance of recovering it.

But a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, and 49 state attorneys general against Western Union is going to change that. The lawsuit has been settled and Western Union has established a $586 million national fund to compensate consumers who were deceived into sending money by wire transfers.

Tammy Whalen of Buffalo is an example. She lost $800 in a Craigslist rent scam when a con artist, posing as the landlord of the house Whalen was trying to rent, instructed Tammy to wire him the money, using Western Union and MoneyGram, and he would send her the keys.

“I tried to contact him to see if he was going to send the keys, and all he texted me back was ‘okay’. So my daughters was waiting for the keys at the house, and when she did not get them, I kind of figured something was up.”

Other rackets have scammed consumers out of billions of dollars, including IRS imposters demanding money to stay out of jail; “Grandparent Scams” targeting older victims like “Rodney C.” who got a call from a scammer posing as a relative, out west, who would be locked up unless Rodney wired $2,300 for bail.

“I know myself, others have been taken for $5,000, so I cannot complain, but still it hurts,” said Rodney.

Assistant State Attorney General James Morrissey said the settlement is giving thousands of scam victims a rare opportunity to recover their losses, “Because once you get that Western Union you might as well have cash in your pocket–there is no way to trace it, and there is no way to get it back.”

That is, until now. Over the years, authorities have admonished Western Union–the oldest telecommunications firm in the country–they have to be more responsible with their practice of wiring money all over the world.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman estimates more than 30,000 New Yorkers could be entitled to compensation, amounting to $35 million from losses suffered from January 1, 2004 until January 19, 2017.

Morrissey said that is longest settlement periods he has seen, “and it is great, and hopefully people have the records necessary in order to make those claims.”

If you were ripped off using a Western Union wire transfer, between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017 you might be able to get some or all of your money back. You can file a claim by clicking on the website for Western Union settlement.

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