Finance Internet

How I Nearly Got Conned Via A Western Union Transfer Scam

Angela Randall 07-01-2014

Here’s a little story about the latest “Nigerian scam Do Nigerian Scam Emails Hide A Terrible Secret? [Opinion] Another day, another spam email drops into my inbox, somehow working its way around the Windows Live spam filter that does such a good job of protecting my eyes from all of the other unsolicited... Read More ,” which is all too obvious in hindsight and yet so believable when you’re on the hook.


Now, I’m a regular online shopper on Amazon, eBay, and the like. I know the sorts of scams you see on Craigslist Taking the Battle to Craigslist Scammers: How to Avoid Scams on Craigslist Launched way back in 1995, Craigslist took the Internet world by storm with its innovative cross of classified ads with the web. But as with all Internet-based transactions, some users prefer to game the system... Read More and the very similar eBay scams 10 eBay Scams to Be Aware Of Being scammed sucks, especially on eBay. Here are the most common eBay scams you need to know about, and how to avoid them. Read More you’re likely to come across. I know basic rules of not getting fleeced in marketplace transactions and most of the likely online scams 5 Online Scams To Be Aware Of This Christmas It is the season of cheer and joy, but there are malicious people out there who will capitalize on your good spirits to scam you out of a lot of money. Stay alert. Read More . Yet, still, this one almost got me.

The Scam

It all started on Facebook. A woman posted to a local buy-sell group with a Thermomix for 350€. Now, that’s a bloody good deal as those things usually go for 900€. I’ve been eyeing them for a while, so I know. This is a fantastic price. I check the woman’s profile out and she looks legit: she has a long-standing profile, some public photos and is a part of some other groups in the local area. Fair enough.


Her message says to contact an email address, which is doubly odd because the email address doesn’t match her name, but whatever. She tells me she bought the item a few months ago, but now has to travel for work. She can’t use it because she’s away, and she’d prefer the cash. She has left the Thermomix with her brother-in-law who can bring it around whenever I’m free. Sounds reasonable, right?

So, I’m still thinking this is okay. I ask about the payment. People round here like cheques, but if I were selling, I’d prefer to be paid in cash. So, I ask. She says she’d prefer a Western Union transfer, which I can do via the post office or online. I mention that I’d rather not send money before I see the item and that if I can send a payment online I can do that while her brother-in-law is here watching me. That or pay him in cash and he can wire it to the seller. This is far more sensible.


But no, she tells me Western Union has this password protection set up. I nominate a password and when I’ve seen the goods I tell her brother in law what it is (or email her with it). To me, that sounded like a decent escrow system. I even chatted to my husband about it and we agreed that Western Union sounded like they had a good system in place. I very nearly went ahead with this, until I had a moment to stop and think about it.

So, if I wire this money to a person I don’t know with only a password between them receiving the money or not, what is to stop them bribing or whining their way to getting the clerk to hand it over? Not much, really.

The Problem Is With Western Union

Let me get this straight. Western Union realise this is a problem. They have posts about consumer protection and how you should never send money to someone who you don’t know in real life. But despite all these warnings for consumers, they haven’t actually prevented this from reoccurring. If Western Union didn’t have a password system in place, it wouldn’t trick otherwise savvy people from thinking this was a legitimate escrow system that they could trust. If they can’t trust their agents worldwide to implement the password system effectively, it should be abolished. If there was no password system, I wouldn’t have even been tempted by this scam.

Also, Western Union should give warnings to users as they make the transaction. For instance, if they are transferring to a country that is not their own, this would be a good time to remind the customer that this password system is ineffective and that they shouldn’t transfer to someone that they don’t know.


The Red Flags

The problem with scammers is that they have perfected the art of sounding harmless. All of the red flags were released drip-by-drip so that they didn’t look altogether dodgy at a glance.

The first red flag should have been the price. Secondly, the email address not matching. Subsequently, the offer to deliver to my house, then the elaborate payment system and the brother-in-law. Why couldn’t I just pay when he arrived? And why is this person ringing from a private number?


When she sent the email with the payment details I realised she wanted me to send the payment to Benin. Where’s Benin? Oh, right next door to Nigeria. Another red flag. And the name didn’t match hers. Giant. Red. Flag. And why did the details look like a cut-and-paste job? Red Flag!


The final red flag was when the supposed brother-in-law started asking for the transaction number of the payment before he arrived. To begin with, that sort of made sense. But when I thought about it, once he had that transaction code, the only thing stopping them from having my money was a clerk I don’t know in a country I don’t know, who may or may not bother asking for a password. That’s not very secure. Not at all. And with that in mind, they may not even need the code. I’m sure a friendly clerk could look the transaction up for them.

It’s A Scam!

It dawned on me that I didn’t have any of their details, other than a Facebook profile and an email address. I had no real-life address or phone number for the police to check up on easily. This is scam-a-licious!

Hey, let’s stop and do a search for “Western Union Scam Benin”. Oh look, there are dozens of similar scam stories, with people specifically mentioning “Coutenou”, which is a city I was given in the payment details. Actually, come to think of it, this whole thing sounds dodgy. I might just wait to see if this guy turns up with a Thermomix for me and pay him in cash if he does. He didn’t.

I say again, the only reason this looked half-believable is because all of the red flags came at different times. And when looking at this from the perspective of a regular sale of goods locally, these things didn’t seem that odd. When your brain thinks you are transferring money to someone local, you almost forget about that tiny change of country (she said she was travelling), and that the country you are sending to might not hold clerks to the same standards of trust as they do nearby.


Lessons Learned

So, the crisis was averted. I am still the owner of my 350€ and I’ve gained a scary tale to tell. But what I will re-iterate is this: Don’t send large amounts of money via the Internet to people you don’t know, even if there’s a supposed password system in place. Also, just because a Facebook account looks legitimate is no reason to believe it’s not a scam. The real Facebook user may have been hacked 4 Things to Do Immediately When Your Facebook Account Was Hacked If you suspect that your Facebook account has been hacked, here's what to do to find out and regain control. Read More , or the scammers might just be really good. The Facebook element makes it all the more dangerous, as nowadays we are likely to believe the identities behind these profiles are who they say they are.


And Western Union should definitely get rid of that password feature if it cannot be enforced. It is the trick that brings life to scams like this one.

Have you ever been scammed on Facebook The Top 5 Current Facebook Scams To Watch Out For Read More or elsewhere? Did you fall for it or realise just in time?

Image Credit: Man in a mask Via Shutterstock, Internet Scam via Shutterstock

Related topics: Money Management, Online Security, Online Shopping, Scams.

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  1. Mike
    March 18, 2017 at 3:48 am

    There is a new social media twist to this one now. The scammer starts tracking the mark on social media gathering information.
    Then they send a request to the mark saying that they are "little Timmy" on vacation in Ghana, India, etc. and they need money to get out of (fill in the blank) problem and need the money in the next day. The scammer provides the money exchange office information, could be Western Union or some other institution, just to be helpful. Often this is a team effort using bribes they are able to get a confederate to short stop the money when it arrives.

    The scammer, using the information about "aunt Milly" and "little Timmy" gathered online to give the distressed email / text etc. the whiff of authenticity needed gull the mark into sending money.
    Bingo you have been scammed.

  2. Les
    February 16, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    Well it seems you need someone to walk you through life. Why would you not take 100% responsibility for your action, had you been scammed (I'm glad you weren't) would you have blamed WU ? Hmmm, I don't think it's their responsibility, they do a fairly good job sending out alerts and check their website, you'll see this scam is known.

  3. Dumbo User
    January 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    "It all started on Facebook. A woman posted to a local buy-sell group with a Thermomix for 350€. "

    Members on facebook can buy likes and frineds from people who run software to make facebook users seem like they can be trusted but they cannot.

    I was ripped off by the Peachy Lemon scam that is just plain old pyramid marketing of printed mugs on Facebook and was persuaded to pay them £10 a month to become a sales agent so me and my husband worked hard and manage to drum up some business using discount codes but we ended up with angry family members and friends who often did not receive the good on time or at all plus the quality of the goods was questionable.

    Needless to say that I ended up £30 out of pocket but the lesson learned was invaluable and yes I was a total mug and won’t be take in so easy in the future.

  4. m rutter
    November 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    My sister who lives in Ireland was having trouble with downloading a Norton subscription. She received an email from supposedly Norton who said that they would refund her subscription of 29 euros and she would have to try download again. The person on the other end of the phone asked for her bank account number in order to refund the money and also she was to turn on her computer for them to FIX?? the problem and also stay on her land- line phone. She gave them her bank account number and done as she was told to stay at the computer and stay on her phone. These people took over her computer, she knew this because the little arrow was flitting all over the place !! She immediatly became suspicious, and on her mobile phoned her bank only to find out that her bank had red flagged a transaction asking for 440 euros to be transferred into a Western Union foreign account. The bank, on my sisters instructions cancelled this transaction right away. She had also received a phone call from western Union telling her that the had been instructed to collect this money on the scammers behalf, They also red flagged this transaction and advised her to change her bank details because obviously the scammers had her details now. Everything has been sorted now with Norton (the proper norton) but let this be a lesson to others that these scammers try every trick in the book to get money from hard working people to fill their own pockets.

  5. Nigerian Hoe
    November 6, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    Jeez ... desparate women with all her flags. Your still have your 350$ So stop crying.

  6. Sandra Candy
    July 1, 2016 at 7:55 am

    My name is Sandra Candy never thought I will smile again, My husband left me with one kids for one year, All effort to bring him back failed I thought I'm not going to see him again not until I met a lady called Jesse who told me about a spell caster called Dr.Ajaguna, She gave me his email address and mobile number and I contacted him and he assured me that within 48hours my husband will come back to me, In less than 48hours my husband came back started begging for forgiveness saying it is the hand work of the devil, so I'm still surprise till now about this miracle,i couldn't conceive but as soon as the spell was cast,i became pregnant and gave birth to my second child (Michelle) if you need any assistance from him you can contact him via:email Ajaguna7demons @ gmail . com

  7. Nicole
    January 7, 2016 at 5:52 am

    It IS Western union letting these typea of scams happen, these transactions are their bread and butter. I'm an agent and I deal with people of all demographics that are obviously being duped by a scam. It's painfully obvious to us but there's only so much we can suggest to the customer. So they send the 1500usd they clearly cannot afford because they KNOW their realative left them millions in a trust in Nigeria years ago and they just need to pay some fees...anyway, all we can do is alert Western union customer service where there will put a hold and review on the transaction and almost always after speaking to the customer, who assures them they know what they are doing, then they green light the transfer. And that's how your granny lost absolutely everything and still refuses to believe she was scammed. It's so frustrating seeing the same thing numerous times a day, there really is a sucker for every sucker, it's shocking. But western union feigns interest in preventing these types of scams but in all honesty, this is a very consistent form of income for the company and if they did drop some hard regulations on these types of funds transfers, it would only be income lost and not in their interest at all. Western unuion, in these instances, is a horrible company praying on the weak and vilifying scammers everywhere.

  8. Anonymous
    June 17, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    I agree with this comment. It is very sad especially since this same technique has just recently been done to me last night... I will post this experience so that whoever is reading this will know the danger of this.

    This experience began when I met a woman from the Philippines on an online dating site called Timhop. She seemed really friendly at first. So we talked a couple of days through a few messages on that site, then she asked for my email. I gave her my email and we emailed each other for a few months, we both sent each other pictures and told each other how we were doing and during this time i was thinking to myself (This seems so fake man.. i have a strange and bad feeling about this). Then she asked me to skype, and i gave her my skype. We connected and had our first video chat, then at that moment i thought to myself as i looked at her and talked to her and watched her facial expressions that 'clearly she's real'. So we smiled at each other and then started to skype every night for a month.
    Then the first question came, she asked me for about $40 (which is a pretty substantial amount in Filipino currency) to help out with her school so she can finish her last term in college. I was really timid at first but i thought, "We'll i'm looking straight at her and she looks to be okay." So, i foolishly made a Western Union account and sent her the money. Later that day, i got an email that she picked it up and that was it. I thought to myself, "Huh, that's good. No harm done" So then we later skyped for another month and she asked for money again. (Now, for those of you who don't know, the Philippines isn't exactly a financially thriving country. In fact, they are one of the poorest countries.) After last time of what i thought was a harmless and successful transfer, i was like "Well why not. I'll be helping someone in need. She needs this money." So this time i sent her $60. Again, i got a notification of her pick up and again nothing happened. This went on for a month or two and the more time progressed, the more i began to grow feelings for this person. She began to say that she 'loved' me and i told her that i loved her. I began to honestly feel she was the one... Until one night...
    One night, as we were skyping, i told her that i won't be online for a while nor will i have internet for a while, she understood. We talked for a few more minutes then she asked again for money this time $30 (which was all i could give at the time for i was going through some things), i agreed and sent it too her. Then later the next day i got a text that i've been overdrafted and that i was now in the negative... -$844...
    I quickly notified Western Union and they, and then i notified my bank and now they're investigating this.. and i really hope i am refurbished, because if not... I'll have to work to pay ALL of that back.. And that will take a while..
    Aside from a broken heart, it could've been a lot worse, it could've been in the thousands.

    Now, replying to your comment @Shade, it appears that she/ he made another email address using the same email address as mine. Then, she/ he began to repeatedly press the "Forgot Password" button, reset the password, then got into my account and began to send money to themselves and make it seem as i authorized it but I DID NOT. They also tried to make a separate account using my email address. I honestly am very worried and do not know what to do as far as that goes.

    I surely learned something after this experience and i hope whoever is reading this has learned as well. I posted this experience so that you will not go through this terrible experience. Please share this with your friends so that we can spread the warnings and fight Fraud.
    Goodbye everyone, and Please take care of yourselves.

  9. JT
    March 11, 2015 at 6:24 am

    I am a Western Union operator. The "password system" is not in any way shape or form a escrow system. You are made to believe that by the scammer. The password system is actually a test question / answer system allowing small amounts of money to be sent to people without id's.

    However, if a receiver is unable to answer the test question, but has valid ID, then that trumps the test question, and they do not need to answer the test question. The scammer does not have to bribe, intimidate or whine at the agent to get they money. If the money is sent then it's theirs to pick up.

  10. Anonymous
    January 24, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Scam is everywhere and pls stop thinking is only Nigeria that is doing all that stuff. We thank God for the wisdom he gave us here in Nigeria if you are been scam is cuz you're a fool and not wise

    • Anonymous
      June 8, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      You god is the devil!Because he is the father of the lie!
      If you continue like this you will go to hell to enjoy the eternal fire there togheter with him!
      The Children of the devil
      …43"Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44"You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45"But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.…John 8:44

  11. Scammer's victim
    June 13, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    How to rip off scammers that defrauded you

    Nowadays there are lots of scammer victims on internet. In many cases they can't be caught.

    Usually scam victims write on special websites about their negative experience.

    This little article is about how to rip off scammer that you already fallen victim of.

    Now, let's look at this: scammer is far away in another country. Scammer is happy, he/she just ripped off another person he/she don't know. And here is important thing: scammer thinks that you'll want to return money and will send additional sum and he tries to make you believe that he'll send you more products, otherwise he says customs or their company won't be able to send one item to you.

    You already sent one payment via Western Union and it turned out that Western Union transfers somehow can be picked up without MTCN number!

    You don't want waste your time and quickly forget about this.

    But if you want to rip off that scammers, you can order special number, which is paid for all incoming calls. That company will pay you each month. You should give scammer this number and he will call you. You will try to speak as long as possible.
    Also, probably you can make your number paid for incoming calls.

    This method is good for sums until 1000 usd. I didn't try this.

    Scammers deserve to be ripped off.

  12. Alex
    January 10, 2014 at 5:02 am

    Great info! Thanks for posting this valuable info. If it sounds scammy, it probably is!

  13. Ayo
    January 9, 2014 at 11:55 am

    For GOD'S SAKE!!!
    The truth? when something looks so DARN good to be true....
    NIGERIANS are not all bad people as insinuated by some 'people'...another truth..there are SCAMMERs everywhere... US,UK,EUROPE,ASIA, AFRICA... final QUESTION why WOULD you want to buy an item worth 900 for 350?
    i rest my case.

    • Bromius
      January 13, 2014 at 3:41 pm

      Ayo, it does happen often enough that someone buys or receives a thing that they do not need and circumstances pay prevent them from returning it to the store for full value. It can happen that the need for $350 today (or Euro or whatever) exceeds the larger value one may get by pricing the item properly. When I left Korea I sold my 250cc scooter for ?200,000 to some lucky kid, should he have prefered one costing 5 times as much? The question is not whether a person should be on the look out for a bargain, it should be how far they are willing to fool themselves to get one.

      That said, it is true that not all Nigerians are scammers. I have been to your country and have found the people there (for the most part) incredibly friendly, helpful, all around good people. But the reputation persists because there is a corrupt element within Nigeria that does make use of this deceitful tactic. That criminal element is a better target for your anger.

  14. Colin
    January 9, 2014 at 2:16 am

    I got a new one a couple of days ago. Guy rings up out of the blue, asks me if I remember filling in an online survey a few months ago. I don't, but I let him continue. He says as a "thank you" his company wil send me £20 worth of fuel vouchers, redeemable in any garage.
    "Thank you" I said. AND THEN... "In order to send you the vouchers, we make a small administrative charge of £1, which you can pay over the phone". Thats was the end of that conversation, but I wonder how many people give out their bank card details over the phone, just to claim that (imaginary) £20 worth of fuel vouchers?

  15. Shade
    January 8, 2014 at 9:00 pm

    Coming from a software background, this system is so insecure it's sad. There should be no way at all for the clerk to get the money for the receiver without the password. At a software level, the only person that should be able to override the password (like forgetting it) is through an email reset, if not also with two factor authentication connected to their information on an account they already hold with the bank.

  16. Pitan
    January 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

    How are you sure that your presumed scam artist is from Nigeria. There are scammers everywhere and choosing to pick on a country in order to write your ordeal shows how low is your level of reasoning. I cannot change your perception but I can bring you to the realization that you need not look far to know that your next door neighbor could be your worst nightmare. I have seen many “as seen on TV” scammers here in the US and same in UK. Just google and you find enough information on that. I am against scamming and it also important to educate people like you who think you can just write whatever you want on the internet just to make yourself feel good. Millions of hardworking men and women in that country have suffered enough scar from people like you. Also stop using this country name to attract people into reading your story.

  17. Iyekeoretin Akhianmiegbe
    January 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    Please can you retitled it... It is not just Nigerians ALONE for God Sake

    • st. vincent
      May 30, 2014 at 12:01 am

      lolzzz... honestly.. its not just nigerians.. its everywhere

  18. Aquariuz
    January 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm

    I got scammed in a bar parking lot. Three black guys came up to me and asked if I wanted to buy a DVD player for $20. I told them I didn't have $20. He asked what I had, I told him I only had $10. He hesitated like he was reluctant, then said he'd take it. We walked to his car and he opened the trunk where he pulled out a brand new looking box. I gave him $10, he gave me the box and then whispered in a conspiratorial way, "You probably don't want anyone else to see that". Got in his car and elft. I hid the box in my trunk and went on into the bar (Yeah, I hadn't started drinking yet)

    Later on when I got home I opened the box and it was full of rocks. I just felt dumb. But it was worth $10 to learn a lesson. I have never been scammed since then.

  19. Marjorie C
    January 8, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you for posting this as a warning to others. I don't often buy from people or firms I don't know, but the "Western Union" name would have given me some comfort just because it's so well-known. Scams are everywhere and I hold to the safe side. Recently I wanted to purchase a "good deal" from a fairly popular site, but my browsers (I used two) warned that the site's certificates were not secure. I just refused to order from it and found the item at a higher price elsewhere. Better to pay $5 extra than lose $80!

  20. Rob H
    January 8, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    As others have said if you adopt the rule:
    Western Union = scam
    you'll not go far wrong

  21. Take Care
    January 8, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Hacking a real legit Facebook profile is a easy as typing 123456. Don't trust your mother or your best friend on Facebook until you're sure.

  22. Andy
    January 8, 2014 at 10:23 am

    I nearly got scammed recently like this regarding renting an apartment.
    The seller said he lived abroad and could only show me round and give me the keys after he knew I was interested and that I had to pay a deposit of £1500 so that he could go ahead and book his flights. He pretended to be from Norway.

    Like yourself, it was too good to be true and drip by drip everything started to unravel in my head.

    The Biggest Red Flag for me was this.
    1) The seller knew wayyy tooo much about the Western Union process. Like all the in's and out's and every answer to my question regarding this payment method.

    Clearly he had done this many times before. That alone caused me to call off the deal.

    • Anna
      May 27, 2014 at 11:23 pm

      Andy, I am now in the same situation as you were and I spotted long before that the person is a fraud. I am looking for an apartment in London and contacted the guy that is offering his flat, way too cheap to be true (of course, photos included). Then this clever guy is telling me a sad story that he is from Norway and had some stories when people were interested in his flat, but never turned up, so to reserve an apartment for me I need to send a deposit by WU at my friend's name (he said, not my name) and then send him a photocopy of the receipt, so he confirms that I have money and interested in this flat. Then, by his story, I come to London and take this money from WU and give his the sum in cash. How cheeky is that? These days I continue taking to this bastard, because he really thinks I will do what he wants to... I found his IP Adress, and of course, he is not from Norway, but from USA, so I want to get more information from him and then send all these e-mails to the organisation that could put contact the police. This is why guys I'm asking you, how can I help other people not to get in my situation and put this bastard in jail? I'm not from USA so can't go to the local police... Help!

    • Angela A
      May 29, 2014 at 2:39 pm

      Wow. That's some sneaky nastiness.

  23. liz
    January 8, 2014 at 9:54 am

    A few years ago someone hacked my eBay entry. I hadn't used it for quite a while but apparently I was now selling lots of expensive cameras. Luckily eBay spotted it and warned me.

  24. Paul V
    January 8, 2014 at 6:52 am

    I was almost scammed about 2 years ago with a hacked eBay account, the seller was top rated and was selling low price smartphones, I contacted the guy and he asked me to wire the money using a new service of eBay and WU (and the password thing) as soon as I read Western union I knew it was a scam, stay away from WU and only use it to send money to relatives or people you know in real life.

  25. Usered Domained
    January 8, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Do an article on tracing legitimacy (i.e. SSL chains, domain verification, merchant accounts, vendor locale, PCI compliance, blah, blah). If you are biting on goods from random Facebook posts, you are in for a world of hurt. Set your comfort level for purchasing at a much higher bar, and you won't have to worry about this sort of thing.

    • Jason
      January 8, 2014 at 3:08 pm

      Actually, the joke's on you. Western Union has been around for a long time. Their service long pre-dates the electronic transfers which have surpassed it in convenience and security. For some people it is still a practical option for sending money to friends or family.

  26. Kevin M
    January 8, 2014 at 3:52 am

    Jokes on you, Western Union is the scam period! There are other more realistic ways to send and receive money and WU is NOT one of them!

  27. Dana
    January 8, 2014 at 2:56 am

    Western Union is such a scammers paradise that I often wonder how they are still in business.
    If I ever see WU as a payment method, I RUN not walk for the door.

    • jj
      January 8, 2014 at 6:09 am

      Ikr u mpnailed it, how are they in business?

  28. Tom W
    January 7, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Congratulations on spotting the scam before you lost anything to it.

    I don't know if it's just the UK, but I've never heard anything good about wire transfers, and they seem to be a haven for scammers. If I ever had someone requesting a wire transfer, I would decline and offer another payment option. If they insisted on a wire transfer, I would probably come to the conclusion that it wasn't worth it, and end communication.

    • Angela A
      January 8, 2014 at 2:47 am

      Me too from now on.

    • Iyekeoretin Akhianmiegbe
      January 8, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      simple, but greed ones will want to get it by all mean.
      I lost 450 pound to a British Guy ( I purchased an iPhone 5 from HIM and not knowing it was stole) rate that!!!