Updated: August 10, 2015
Originally Posted: January 16, 2013
The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) warns consumers to verify the identity of each and every person to whom they send money.
DFI received numerous complaints from consumers who were fraudulently induced to send money to scammers via money transmitters licensed by DFI, such as Western Union and MoneyGram. These licensees have anti-fraud materials at each of their locations and on their websites, and consumers are encouraged to review these materials prior to sending money. (see, for example, https://www.moneypak.com/protectyourmoney.aspx; http://corporate.moneygram.com/compliance/fraud-prevention; https://www.westernunion.com/us/en/fraudawareness/fraud-home.html) If consumers have any doubt as to whether they may be targets of fraud, they should inquire with the licensees and with the Department. Once transfers have been completed it is very difficult for authorities to locate scammers and for consumers to recover money.
Scams take many forms and scammers may contact consumers by telephone, email, or postal mail. Common scams include:
- Relative in Need – a scammer impersonates a consumer’s family member, commonly grandchildren, and claims there is an emergency requiring the consumer to send money
- Lottery or Prize – a scammer informs a consumer that the consumer won a lottery or prize and must send money in order to claim it
- Debt Collection – a scammer impersonates a debt collector and induces a consumer to send money through the use of threats
- Purchases, Sales, and Leases – a scammer advises a consumer that the consumer must send money in order to complete a purchase, sale, or lease
- Employment Related – a scammer instructs a consumer to send money through the consumer’s personal bank account in connection with a fraudulent offer of employment
- Online Dating Related – a scammer impersonates an online dater, contacts a consumer who is dating online, and requests money as a gift or to help with an emergency
- Secret Shopper – a scammer sends a consumer a letter which instructs the consumer to deposit a check that has been sent to them. The consumer is then instructed to go to various stores and purchase items. In addition, the consumer is given instructions to wire money to the scammer, and is specifically told not to tell the money transmitter company about the circumstances for which they are wiring money.
Scammers are located both inside the United States and in various countries worldwide. Recent complaints involved scammers believed to be operating from Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Spain, and Ukraine; and consumers should be especially cautious when sending money to these countries.
If you feel you are in immediate danger contact local law enforcement. You may also contact local law enforcement in the jurisdiction where the scammer is located to report fraud.
If you are suspicious of fraudulent activity by a money transmitter, or involving the use of a money transmitter’s services, contact the Department at 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334), or online at www.dfi.wa.gov.
If you feel you have been the victim of a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP, or online at www.ftc.gov.
If you feel you have been the victim of a scam involving the Internet, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
If you feel you have been the victim of a scam and are concerned about your personal financial information, contact your banking institution and the three major credit bureaus.