Consumers lost money through romance, sweepstakes scams
Iowans who wired money to scammers via Western Union have applied for a total of $11.23 million in refunds as part of a national settlement with the company.
The number of claims total 2,139 from mailing addresses in Iowa. The claims include one Iowa couple who lost $500,000 of their retirement savings, and several people who lost tens of thousands of dollars. The victims report they wired money to scammers who promised romance, international sweepstakes winnings and large inheritances from foreign countries, among other claims.
Fraud victims could qualify for a refund through the settlement if they wired money through Western Union between Jan. 1, 2004, and Jan. 19, 2017. The Western Union Co., Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Justice announced the $586 million settlement on Jan. 19, 2017.
The settlement administrator continues to accept claims. Refund amounts will depend on the number of verified claims and approved losses.
Attorney General Tom Miller urged Iowans affected to report claims by going to http://www.westernunionremission.com/ or calling 844-319-2124.
“Iowans continue to fall prey to scammers and use wire transfers, and we will help you recover money you’re entitled to,” Miller said.
In January, Miller’s office mailed additional settlement notices to more than 18,000 Iowa residents, including Iowans who did not report being scammed. The office’s Consumer Protection Division also called victims who wired the largest amounts of money. The division obtained the names from Western Union. The list includes Iowans who wired $500 or more in recent years to certain countries known for an elevated risk of fraud activity.
The stories include a central Iowa widow whose late husband lost more than $500,000 of their retirement savings through a Nigerian inheritance scam. The victim, who was in his 80s when he died recently, wired money dozens of times over a 10-year period after scammers insisted he pay fees to collect a supposed inheritance. The victim’s widow provided records that will assist her in recovering money through the settlement.
A Des Moines man reported wiring $150,000 through at least two scams, and many more Iowans report losing tens of thousands. In one case, a southeast Iowa man provided a box full of Western Union receipts to verify more than $50,000 in payments wired over two years in what turned out to be a romance scam.
Background on $586 Million Settlement
As part of the settlement, Western Union admitted that, between 2004-2012, it processed hundreds of thousands of transactions for company agents and others involved in an international consumer fraud scheme.
The company admitted it knew of the fraudulent activity but failed to act against its agents who either were involved in the transactions or helped facilitate them — often processing the fraud payments in return for a cut of the proceeds. The scams included fake lottery and prize awards, family emergencies, advance-fee loans, online dating, and others.
The company also admitted it failed to discipline problem company agents and failed to implement effective anti-fraud policies and procedures.
In a separate settlement announced Jan. 31, 2017, with 49 states, including Iowa, plus the District of Columbia, Western Union agreed to implement a comprehensive anti-fraud program and pay $5 million to the states, including nearly $54,000.