#Western #Union changes ways, but still popular with ‘romance scammers’


Most of the 19 Kiwis who between them lost a staggering $7.9 million to “romance scams” in the first three months of this year appear to have used money transfer services, rather than banks, to send money overseas, cyber safety organisation Netsafe says.

Netsafe director of technology Sean Lyons said some of the victims lost more than $1m, and Western Union was used in about half of the cases where the means by which money was transferred overseas was known to Netsafe.

But Lyons said Netsafe did not believe Western Union had shown any lack of “duty of care” to the most recent scams victims.

Western Union agreed to establish a US$586m (NZ$$849m) compensation fund last year to settle an investigation by the United States Federal Trade Commission, the US Justice Department (DOJ) and the US Postal Inspection Service.

They had accused Western Union of “aiding and abetting wire fraud” by turning a blind eye to scammers.

But Lyons said Western Union had since changed its practices and was asking questions of people who it thought might be falling for scams.

Such “heroic” last-minute interventions by Western Union workers had prevented some people from falling for scams, but some victims simply did not want to hear suspicions they might have been duped, he said.

He said money transfer services were multiplying due to new technology and he was not sure if all of them were taking the same steps.

Lyons agreed Western Union could consider refusing to transfer money in cases where possible scam victims did not heed its advice.

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Although scam victims could simply find another way to transfer money to fraudsters, Lyons said he didn’t think it would be wrong of Western Union to take that step “if they had suspicions based on evidence”.

Netsafe wouldn’t want to see a situation where people were “denied the opportunity to transfer money back home to families just because someone perceived a particular nation state as being more prone to being the origin of scams”, he added.

Western Union spokeswoman Claire Treacy said its agents were trained to identify potential “red flags” and to ask customers questions about the purpose of the transaction if they suspected fraud.

“In the case of romance scams, consumers are warned not to send money to someone that they have not met in person and agents are trained to ask consumers if they have met the receiver in person when red flag behaviours are identified,” she said.

“Western Union has system controls that may include holding a specific transaction of a specific value and calling back the sender to verify the purpose or determine if the receiver is personally known to the sender.”

Scams reported have ranged from a few hundred dollars through to more than $2m.
Scams reported have ranged from a few hundred dollars through to more than $2m.

?Lyons said Netsafe was aware of one romance scam “in the distant past” where the fraudster had in fact arranged for a face-to-face meeting with their victim.

There were probably ways additional regulation of money transfer services might help, he said, noting the safeguards that could be provided by anti-money laundering rules. “But it is a free market economy,” he said.

Lyons said scammers were generally based overseas and could be involved in wider organised crime syndicates.

“A scammer pretends to be in a relationship with someone online in order to scam them out of money. They do this through email, social media, dating websites and other website and apps,” Lyons said.

Usually these scammers catfish their prey, using photos and identities of people they’ve found online, he said.

Running romance scams was a full-time job for some people, Netsafe said.

The large sums of money that individuals had lost in the latest scams were a worry, Lyons said, and there was evidence that trend towards larger losses was continuing.

Running romance scams is a full-time job for some scammers and they can be very good at it.
Running romance scams is a full-time job for some scammers and they can be very good at it.

Identifying romance scams

– Confessions of love or strong feelings within a short time of meeting the person online.
– Personal troubles, that can be solved with money
– Requests for money
– Changes in communication style: If there are several scammers taking turns to maintain the relationship, their writing styles may change.
– Be wary if they’re hesitant about meeting or video call
– Financial assistance to meet in person: Also be careful about offering or giving the person money so that they can meet you in person.
– Reverse image search: You can check if the images they’ve sent you are being used publicly online in other places using Netsafe’s instructions

How to avoid romance scams

– Be cautious about who you communicate with online.
– Don’t respond to requests or hints for money.
– Never send money to anyone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
– Avoid giving out personal details that could be used to impersonate you.
– If you think you’re being scammed, stop all contact and avoid sending further payments.
– Contact Netsafe for free and confidential advice if you feel something isn’t quite right.

Most of these identifiers can also be used to protect yourself from being catfished. Netsafe has released a list of warning signs to be cautious of.

Some of the key giveaways of being catfished are, low resolution photos, few friends or contacts on social media, and talk of money or personal information early in the conversation.

Source: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/105592525/lonely-kiwis-lose-79m-in-online-romance-scams-netsafe-warns