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May 18, 2018

Deadline approaches for scam victims to apply for Western Union refunds

Iowans have applied for $9.16 million in claims


Iowans who wired money to scammers via Western Union have less than two weeks to apply for refunds through a $586 million national settlement. The deadline is May 31. 


So far, 1,072 Iowans have applied for $9.16 million in refunds. 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 may 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 Company, Federal Trade Commission, and Department of Justice announced the $586 million settlement on Jan. 19, 2017.


All eligible victims, regardless of whether they received a settlement claim notification or reported it, can apply by the May 31 deadline through a link at ftc.gov/wu or westernunionremission.com. Victims can also call 844-319-2124 for more information.


Victims do not need documentation. However, wire transfer receipts may help facilitate a settlement claim, and victims will need to provide information about a wire transfer so a settlement administrator can verify the transaction.


 “If you think a loved one or someone you know may have been scammed and wired money through Western Union, I urge you to mention this settlement to them so they can try to recover any money that they should be entitled to,” Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said.


The FTC and the settlement administrator have mailed 600,000 notices to victims nationwide. 


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 after issuing a subpoena in November. The list includes Iowans who wired $500 or more in recent years to certain countries known for an elevated risk of fraud activity.


Many Iowans contacted by Miller’s office indicated they were unaware of the settlement, often because they didn’t report being scammed and were not on the national notification list. Victims do not need to have previously reported being scammed to qualify for a settlement refund.


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 ten-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 to Iowa.
 

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