WA scam victims could get millions of dollars in compensation

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Legal action by US authorities against Western Union could result in compensation being paid to thousands of WA scam victims who made payments via the international money transfer service over a 13 year period.

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has issued a penalty of US$586 million to Western Union for aiding fraud, with the funds being used to refund scam victims throughout the world. This covers the period from 1 January 2004 to 19 January 2017.

According to Consumer Protection data since 2009, about a thousand victims in WA reported paying almost $16 million to scammers via Western Union and there would be many more that have suffered losses but have not reported it. The total figure from 2004 will be higher. Additionally, Project Sunbird victims reported paying more than $3.2 million via Western Union from 2013 to 2016.

Commissioner for Consumer Protection David Hillyard urges scam victims who lost money in this way to submit a claim.

“Every day we hear heartbreaking stories of victims who have lost money to online fraudsters and history tells us that many have transferred their money overseas using Western Union services,” Mr Hillyard said.

“The types of scams involved cover a wide range: fake prizes or lotteries; online dating or romance fraud; bogus pleas for help from friends or relatives; fake online shopping sites or advance fees for loans.

“Our frustration is that we can do very little once the money has been sent to the scammers and we must inform victims that there is no realistic chance for them to get their money back.

“This court judgement in the US, however, now gives many victims some hope to receive compensation. While there are no guarantees, we would appeal to victims to at least submit a claim so their case can be assessed and verified.

“Some Australian victims may have received a letter from the US Department of Justice, in which case they just need to fill out the form attached and return it.

“Note that there are no fees associated with making the claim so, if you are asked for money, it’s a scam. Make sure you are using the official links provided to lodge your claim.”

Apart from the financial penalty, Western Union has agreed to implement and maintain a comprehensive anti-fraud program with training for its agents and front line associates, along with monitoring to detect and prevent fraud-induced money transfers.

WA victims can use an online form or apply by post to have the money they lost refunded by the DOJ. They must submit their claims before the recently extended deadline of 31 May 2018 by visiting http://www.westernunionremission.com/. The postal address is: United States vs the Western Union Company, PO Box 404028, Louisville, KY 40233-4028.

AUSTRAC, the Federal Government agency that monitors international money transfers, is offering to help scam victims get evidence of their payments to assist with their claim. More information is available at http://www.austrac.gov.au/news/refunds-victims-fraud.

The court ruling followed joint investigations by the US Federal Trade Commission, the US Department of Justice and the US Postal Inspection Service. More information about this case is available at www.ftc.gov/wu.

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Media Contact: Alan Hynd, (08) 6552 9248 / 0429 078 791 / alan.hynd@dmirs.wa.gov.au  

Consumer Protection
Media release
08 Feb 2018

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