Refund for consumer caught by 'help me' scam

A ‘help me’ scam victim in WA has been refunded $5,000 by Western Union after questions were raised by Consumer Protection as to whether identity checks were carried out and the recipient was contacted as requested by the victim.

The scam occurred in October last year when the victim received a fake email purportedly from one of her clients, who had his email account hacked by fraudsters. The fake email stated that the client had his money and credit cards stolen while on a trip to the United Kingdom and urgently needed $5,000 to pay his hotel bill.

The West Perth business woman sent the money via Western Union and selected the option that requires the company to contact the recipient when the money was ready to be collected. The recipient was also required to produce valid proof of identity.

The victim became suspicious when she received another fake email requesting more funds to pay for a flight home. The victim then realised she had been scammed when she contacted her client who confirmed he was still in WA. Consumer Protection negotiated with Western Union on the victim’s behalf and, when questioned about whether the security checks had been carried out, the company agreed they had not and undertook to provide a refund.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said this outcome highlights a few issues.

“If the money transfers company contract to undertake security steps and don’t, then losses that arise as a result can be pursued.  Consumers should question when agreed processes are not carried out and insist upon their right to redress.  It also opens up the possibility of other claims that may have been incorrectly rejected in the past.” Ms Driscoll said.

“The extra security checks offered by Western Union, if carried out, could result in the scam being uncovered and may prevent any loss of money.

“We commend Western Union for accepting the claim and agreeing to the refund. We urge other victims of this type of scam who may have selected the extra security options to come forward and have their cases reviewed.

“We would recommend that people sending money via Western Union in the future consider selecting the extra security option for the recipient to be contacted prior to the release of money. Under the company’s terms and conditions, valid identification is required for amounts over $1,000.

“To prevent being the victim of ‘help me’ scams, people getting urgent requests for money supposedly from family, friends or colleagues should try to contact them, or someone close to them,  to verify the story before sending any money.

“This contact should be independent of the original email, text message or Facebook contact received.  Remember that addresses are often fake and the reply may go straight back to the scammers.”

‘Help me’ scam victims, who have sent money via Western Union and had selected the extra security options, should contact Consumer Protection by calling 1300 30 40 54 or emailing: consumer@commerce.wa.gov.au.

END OF RELEASE

Media Contact:
Alan Hynd
9282 0961 or 0429-078791
alan.hynd@commerce.wa.gov.au

Consumer Protection
Media release
14 May 2013

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