It’s a familiar story: A grandmother gets a call from someone she believes is her grandson. He’s in trouble in a foreign country and needs money – fast. He begs her not to tell his parents and promises to explain everything when he gets home. “Just send the money right away through Western Union.” Anxious to help, she arranges a payment. The cash is collected at the Western Union office, and another grandmother falls victim to a fraudster.
Each time she hears stories like these, Shelley Bernhardt, director of consumer protection for Western Union Fraud Risk Management, becomes more determined to shield grandmothers – and all Western Union customers – from scams that rob them of their money.
“Anyone can become a victim of fraud, so education and awareness are critical to help consumers protect themselves,” says Ms. Bernhardt. “That’s why we have fraud warnings on money transmission forms and point of sale fraud material posted in all our agents’ locations.”
Derek McMillan, Western Union’s director of AML Compliance and Fraud Monitoring in Canada, says partnerships with law enforcement agencies and consumer protection organizations such as Better Business Bureaus are another important element in the company’s efforts to prevent fraud.
“For example, we work closely with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre in North Bay to share information, and with the Competition Bureau as part of its fraud-prevention forum,” says Mr. McMillan.
One challenge is that fraudsters are constantly changing their tactics, as they try to stay ahead of prevention measures. Companies like Western Union must try to anticipate what the next scam will be and stop it before it gets going, he adds.
While it may seem strange that people are able to be taken in by scams, in spite of so much publicity about the danger signs, Ms. Bernhardt points out that fraudsters tend to be good at manipulating their victims.
“Many scams play on people’s emotions, whether it’s the grandson scam or news that you’ve won a lottery or been approved for a loan. There’s often an element of emotion that draws in the victim and makes the scammer difficult to resist – you want to help a loved one; you are excited about winning some money; or you need a loan to get out of debt. There’s often a compelling reason to believe what you are told,” she says.
Recognizing the warning signs is critical to avoid becoming a victim of fraud, says Mr. McMillan.
“Do some homework before sending money to someone who claims to be in trouble. Make sure they are really who they say they are. Requests by e-mail to send money to have lottery winnings paid out or to secure a loan should set off alarm bells, so double check before parting with cash,” he says.
Consumers can reach the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre toll-free at 1-888-495-8501 and find it online at www.antifraudcentre.ca. The centre provides information on possible scams and contact details for law enforcement agencies across Canada, he says.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Ways to report fraud
• Online: www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca
• Toll Free: 1-888-495-8501
• Toll Free Fax: 1-888-654-9426
• E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org