MoneyGram and Nigeria

On June 8th, 2010 MoneyGram released the following information. Because I feel so strongly about this topic, I would like to share the entire press release with you, along with my personal thoughts on it.

MINNEAPOLIS, Jun 08, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) –MoneyGram International (NYSE:MGI), a leading global money transfer company, announced today that First Bank of Nigeria Plc has selected MoneyGram to provide money transfer services in its more than 500 locations across the nation. First Bank, established in 1894, is Nigeria’s oldest bank and one of the largest in terms of network size. First Bank has locations in all key cities including Abuja, Benin, Lagos, Iabdan, Port Harcourt, and Warri as well as a significant presence in rural Nigeria, some operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, making MoneyGram services even more convenient for Nigerians.

Is this really what we need?  for Money Gram services to be even more convenient for Nigerians?  I feel that it is pretty convenient for them just as it is.  Actually it is way TOO convenient for them to pick up money that people receive from counterfeit cashier’s checks, or for fake Secret Shopper jobs or that people believe that they are sending to someone within the United States.

“MoneyGram, which has operated in Nigeria since 1998, saw significant growth between 2006 and 2008 when it tripled its network in the country,” said Vicky Johnston, MoneyGram’s senior regional director for Anglo Africa and Middle East. “We are excited about partnering with First Bank as it is MoneyGram’s most recent and significant expansion which will allow us to provide a service to so many more people through the bank’s large number of branches.”

Ironically, during the same time period that MoneyGram increased it’s network in the country, the number of money lost to scams and fraud also increased.  You can see the increase on the chart below which is from the Annual Report put out by the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3.gov)

To commemorate the agreement with First Bank Plc, MoneyGram’s Chairman and CEO, Pamela H. Patsley is in Nigeria and will attend the official launch event scheduled for today. During her visit, Patsley will address the media as well as CEOs of MoneyGram’s agent banks in Nigeria, discussing the common goal of bringing needed financial services to the people of Nigeria and the growth opportunities there.

I have a better idea . . . what about discussing the common goal of fighting all of the scams and fraud that pass through MoneyGram every day, and how they can do more to save those customers from becoming victims.  Before we start looking at the financial needs of the people of Nigeria, I think we need to protect the financial needs of the people right here in the United States. 

“MoneyGram is pleased to partner with First Bank,” said Patsley. “Our partnership will help to ensure that our services are accessible and convenient for the people of Nigeria and that we can continue to meet the growing demand of consumers in this important remittance market.”

And why are their demands growing?  Because there are more and more scams going undetected or people just turning a blind eye to them. 

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is ranked in the top 10 receive countries for money transfers. The World Bank estimates that $10 billion USD in remittances was sent to Nigeria in 2009 – with the United States being the primary send country. Other top send countries include Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Liberia, Libya, Malaysia, Spain, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

That is because Nigeria is also ranked in the top 3 countries for money wire transfer scams.  The other countries would be Canada and the United Kingdom, who are also ironically on the list above.  I wonder hom much of the $559.7 million dollars from the chart above that went out of this country in scams is directly a part of the $10 billion reported to be going into Nigeria in 2009? 

With the First Bank agreement, MoneyGram now has a total of eight bank relationships, thus further proving that MoneyGram is dedicated to providing reliable and safe money transfer services to Nigerians – wherever they may reside. Furthermore, agent banks in Nigeria have brought a positive experience to the remittance business with their individual pedigree in banking, service quality delivery and branch network, which provides a sense of ease for those receiving funds from family members working in other countries.

So we are going over and above to make sure that Nigerians have a reliable and safe money transfer service, but we are doing very little to offer that same kind of safety to the MoneyGram customers in the United States.  The last sentence in the above paragraph really gets me . . . . which provides a sense of ease for those receiving funds.  Why is it that we seem to care more about the people in another country, who are one of the main sources of these scams, than the people here in the United States that they are scamming? 

Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
 
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MoneyGram and FTC

This information can be found at

http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/moneygram.shtm

MoneyGram International, Inc., the second-largest money transfer service in the United States, will pay $18 million in consumer redress to settle FTC charges that the company allowed its money transfer system to be used by fraudulent telemarketers to bilk U.S. consumers out of tens of millions of dollars. MoneyGram also will be required to implement a comprehensive anti-fraud and agent-monitoring program.

The FTC charged that between 2004 and 2008, MoneyGram agents helped fraudulent telemarketers and other con artists who tricked U.S. consumers into wiring more than $84 million within the United States and to Canada – after these consumers were falsely told they had won a lottery, were hired for a secret shopper program, or were guaranteed loans. The $84 million in losses is based on consumer complaints to MoneyGram – actual consumer losses likely are much higher.

The FTC charged that MoneyGram knew that its system was being used to defraud people but did very little about it, and that in some cases its agents in Canada actually participated in these schemes. According to the FTC’s complaint, MoneyGram knew, or avoided knowing, that about 131 of its more than 1,200 agents accounted for more than 95 percent of the fraud complaints it received in 2008 regarding money transfers to Canada; a similarly small number of agents was responsible for more than 96 percent of all fraud complaints to the company in 2006.

“Money transfer services have a responsibility to make sure their systems don’t become conduits to rip people off,” said David C. Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In this case, MoneyGram not only ducked this responsibility, but also looked the other way while its agents took part in the scams.”

Minneapolis, Minnesota-based MoneyGram operates through a worldwide network of approximately 180,000 agent locations in 190 countries and territories. In its complaint, the FTC charged that in recent years this network has increasingly been used by telemarketing scammers to prey on U.S. consumers. Con artists prefer to use money transfer services because they can pick up transferred money immediately, the payments are often untraceable, and victimized consumers have no chargeback rights or other recourse.

In 2007, 72 percent of all complaints received by the FTC involving Canadian-based fraud reported using money transfer services to make payments. According to a recent FTC survey cited in the complaint, at least 79 percent of all MoneyGram transfers of $1,000 or more from the United States to Canada over a four-month period in 2007 were fraud-induced. The Commission’s complaint further stated that based on the more than 20,600 fraud complaints MoneyGram itself received, U.S. consumers lost more than $44 million to cross-border money-transfer frauds between 2004 and 2008 alone. When combined with losses reported by U.S. consumers on money transfers within the United States, that number grows to $84 million.

In many of the scams that used MoneyGram’s money transfer system, the con artists used counterfeit checks to induce consumers to send money back by wire transfer. The most prevalent of these scams were lottery or prize schemes in which consumers were told they had won thousands of dollars and just had to pay a fee for “taxes,” “customs,” or “insurance” to a third-party to collect their winnings. Consumers paid the fee using MoneyGram, but received nothing. In another scheme, telemarketers told consumers they were guaranteed loans, regardless of their credit score. All they had to do was pay “insurance,” “paperwork,” or “processing” fees to complete the transaction. Consumers who sent funds using a money transfer service got nothing in return.

In mystery shopping scams, the con artists called U.S. consumers or sent them a piece of direct mail in which they claimed to be hiring consumers to visit stores such as Wal-Mart to evaluate MoneyGram money transfer operations. The con artists sent consumers a cashier’s check, telling them to deposit it in their checking account and then send most of the money back using a money transfer at Wal-Mart. When the counterfeit checks bounced, consumers realized they had lost the money they transferred. By this time, however, the money transfer agents had already received and paid out the money, often either without checking IDs or by using fake drivers license information.

The FTC’s complaint alleges that MoneyGram ignored warnings from law enforcement officials and even its own employees that widespread fraud was being conducted over its network, claiming that proposals to deal with the problem were too costly and were not the company’s responsibility. The company even discouraged its employees from enforcing its own fraud prevention policies or taking action against suspicious or corrupt agents. Some employees who raised concerns were disciplined or fired, the FTC charged.

In addition, at least 65 of MoneyGram’s Canadian agents have been charged by Canadian or U.S. law enforcers with, or are currently being investigated for, colluding in fraud schemes that used the MoneyGram system.

The complaint charges MoneyGram with violating both the FTC Act and the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule by helping sellers or telemarketers who it knew – or consciously avoided knowing – were violating federal law, and for not taking adequate steps to prevent fraud.

The agreed-upon court order settling the FTC’s charges bars MoneyGram from knowingly providing substantial help or support to any sellers or telemarketers that are violating the Telemarketing Sales Rule and requires it to implement a comprehensive anti-fraud program. Under the anti-fraud program, MoneyGram must conduct background checks on prospective agents; educate and train its employees about consumer fraud; institute agent monitoring; and discipline agents who don’t comply with the rules. The order also requires MoneyGram to provide a clear and conspicuous fraud warning on the front of all its money transfer forms. The order’s conduct provisions apply to all MoneyGram money transfers sent worldwide from either the United States or Canada.

The order contains monitoring and discipline provisions that will ensure MoneyGram is properly training, monitoring, and taking actions to address problems related to its agents. To do this, the order requires MoneyGram to develop and maintain a system for receiving consumer complaints and data, and to provide that information to the FTC upon request. MoneyGram also must take all reasonable steps to identify agents that are involved in fraud. It must review its transaction data to identify any unusual or suspicious activity by its agents and fire any agent who it believes may be participating in fraudulent activities. It also must fire or suspend any agent who has not taken appropriate steps to stop fraudulent money transfers.

Finally, MoneyGram will pay the Commission $18 million, which will be used to provide redress to consumer

Another scam victim arrested

A while back I told you about a scam victim who was arrested. Stories like these always frustrate me because as a former scam victim I know the hurt and pain that you go through when you find out that you have been scammed, but these victims have that feeling plus more because they now have been arrested. They do not just face the financial recovery process that people like myself went through, but they also have to hire a lawyer to prove that they are the victim in the case and not the criminal. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

This victim was also responding to a Secret Shopper ad.

Here is the story of this latest scam victim in her own words . . .

I responded with all the requested information the next day. Shortly after I responded to this email I was asked by a local company to come into their office for an interview. I did and became very hopeful that I would get the job. I totally forgot about even responding to the Mystery Shopper email and wasn’t really expecting to hear anything from them. I few days later I received 2 Money Gram money orders @ $998.00 each sent to me via Fed Ex overnight mail. No other documents were inside. I couldn’t figure out where these came from and was not even thinking about that one email response I sent for the Mystery Shopper position. I had read an email in my AOL inbox a week or two before that I was a part of a class action lawsuit against AOL for some “footer” issue. I assumed these checks may have been a result of the class action suit since I had 2 screen names with AOL. I attempted to call Money Gram and went online and could not get any information regarding the tracking numbers on them. NO ONE EVER EVEN MENTIONED POSSIBLE FRAUD. When I went to the Money Gram station at the local Lucky store (in the town I have lived for 34 years and am now raising my 13 year old son) to cash these money orders I was arrested immediately. I was frisked, my car searched my purse emptied all in front of the Lucky store here in the quaint little community where most people know everyone. The 3 responding officers were absolutely sure that I was some check fraud “ring leader!” They would ask me where the money orders came from, I would answer telling them that they were sent via UPS next day air but I was unsure by who. Then I was told to shut up and stop lying. One officer told me “you and I both know no one sent these to you. You made these yourself” I was then “escorted” to Alameda County Jail where I remained for the next 10 hours until my $10,000.00 bail bond (for check fraud) was processed.

Once released from jail I made it my mission to catch this dirty rotten scum bag who was responsible for what I had been through. So…..I responded to an email that he had sent to me (which I didn’t even open until about 2 days after I was released from jail) indicating that he sent the package and instructions and he needs me to follow through with this task immediately (of sending his payment via Western Union) I played along with this guy to try to obtain as much information as I could. I advised him that the money orders were cashed and to please call me as I was a bit confused about something regarding his instructions. He called, about every other minute from that moment through the next 4 days. Once even forgetting to *67 therefore I was able to obtain his NIGERIAN telephone number. He even went so far as to send me text messages!!! He thought I had his money and he wanted it. I recorded our phone conversation on my MAC I MOVIE. I tracked down the gentleman whose email address they had hacked and were using to send the initial correspondence. He lived in S. Africa and was the administrator of a fishing forum. I explained to him my situation and advised him to contact the FBI before they contacted him as I had already given them his email information on my FBI report of this incident. He was grateful that I had taken so much of my time to track him down and explain this situation to him so that he could cancel his email address they were using before they had sent any further damaging money orders out to innocent people. I thought that since the local police didn’t really care about catching these losers that I would!!

I have since retained a very good lawyer. We have met with the DA who still is unsure whether he plans to file charges against me or not. I appeared in court last week and at that time there were no charges filed yet BUT THE CASE WAS NOT DROPPED EITHER!!! I go back to court November 5th.

Ever since this happened I cannot STOP talking about it. It helps for me to get past the anger. Initially, I was consumed by researching scammers, trying to catch this guy and others like him. Then I realized that law enforcement officials are inexperienced and unequipped to handle situations like mine. They are not interested in catching the people responsible and therefore I needed to direct my ager somewhere else and for that reason, I would love to tell my story in hopes to make people aware of these scammers.

Why do scammers love Craigslist?

Many websites have become infested with scammers, but Craigslist seems to be one of the places that the scammers really love to hang out. Why is that?

Variety of categories – In the past, when a scammer wanted to find a victim for their overpayment scams they had to go to a website were people were selling items, usually of large value. If they wanted to find a victim for an employment scam, they had to go to a site where people were posting their resumes. If they wanted to find a victim for a romance or dating scam, they would have to go to a dating website. If you wanted to find a victim for renter or roommate scam, you had to go to a site where people were posting housing information. With Craigslist, you can find all of those people in the different categories on the same site.

Includes the entire country – There are other classified ad sites that would have the same variety of categories that Craigslist has, but they are usually for a certain geographic location. If the scammer wants to try and find more victims, they would have to go to another classified ad site that is targeted towards another geographic location. With Craigslist all the scammer has to do is click on a new city and state for their search location and they have a entirely different group of victims to try and bring into their scam.

It’s free – Not only is Craigslist free for people to post or creating listings, but it is also free to people looking at those listings. This works to the scammer’s advantage. If the scammer is the one placing the listing, for a Secret Shopper job for example, they do not have to pay anything to place that advertisement. Many of the sites that require you to pay to post have a lower number of scams posted simply due to the fact that the scammer is there to make money, and not to spend it. It works the other way too . . . if the scammer is the one searching the posted ads for their next victim, they do not have to pay anything to have access to those listings.

Craigslist does have warning information on their site, and I think that some of their warnings should hold true if you are using their site or another classified ad site.

Deal with local buyers and sellers. If you sell your item and you need to have it shipped someplace you are taking a greater risk. If you deal locally, you can arrange to meet the person face to face to exchange money and the item for sale.

Never wire funds to someone you only know via email conversations. Scammers use services like Western Union and MoneyGram in their scams because they know that once the money is wired off and picked up on the other end there is no way to recover the money. Also, since they are overseas, our law enforcement in the United States cannot just go and pick them up for taking your money. It becomes an issue for the government and law enforcement in the country that they live in. This all goes back to jurisdiction, which we talked about in the past, and you can review here.

One thing that I think that Craigslist could add to their posted warning is that a cashier’s check could take 10 business days or more to go through the clearing process. Just because you take the check to the bank and they tell you that it has cleared, or that it will be verified as good in 24 hours does not mean that the bank knows for sure that this check was written on a good account and has the funds in that account to cover the check. This is the information that is missing from so many of the current internet scam warnings, but is also the piece of information that could save so many scam victims. So why don’t the places that post the warnings understand this and include this information? Personally, I feel it is because they are thinking as a “business” and not as a scam victims, and that is one thing that I can do since I have been there myself.

Had we known back in October of 2002 that the check could take up to 10 business days to go through the entire clearing process and that until that happened we would be liable for the entire amount of the check, then there is no way we would have wired any money off any sooner than 10 business days . . . actually, my husband and I had promised each other that what ever amount of time the bank said to wait to be safe we were going to double to be extra safe, so like I said, if they would have been honest with us there is no way we would have become scam victims.

More on Secret Shopper Scams

For a listing of legitimate Secret Shopper companies, go to http://www.mysteryshop.org/

We have spoken with representatives at both Western Union and Money Gram. Money Gram does NOT use Secret Shoppers as a normal business practice. Western Union does use Secret Shoppers, but the shoppers are NEVER paid by cashier’s check or money order. If you have been contacted to shop Western Union or Money Gram, and it involves you receiving a cashier’s check or money order, IT IS A SCAM.

Often, the email address used by the representative of the company “hiring” you will be coming from a generic email address, and not one associated with that company. For further assurance, search out that company on your own and contact them for verification.

Shawn Mosch
Co-Founder of ScamVictimsUnited.com
There is strength in numbers!

Find us on Twitter, Facebook and more through
http://www.retaggr.com/page/ShawnMosch

Consumer Federation of America

This Press Release was from May 27, 2009

http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/Fake_Check_PR_5-27-09.pdf

 

CFA Task Force Aims to “Tear Up” Fake Check Scams

 

Survey Shows Over a Million Consumers are Being Swindled

 

Washington DC – Today, the Consumer Federation of America is launching a national campaign to combat fake check scams.  Millions of consumers are lured into accepting genuine-looking checks and money orders and wiring money to crooks in return.  According to the results of a CFA survey, nearly one third of adults have been approached with fake check scams and at least 1.3 million have become actual victims. With an average loss of $3,000 to $4,000 per consumer, billions of dollars have been pocketed by fake check scammers. “In today’s economy, as consumers struggle to make ends meet, vulnerability is at an all-time high. Phony claims of sudden riches or ways to make money have never been more attractive,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s Director of Consumer Protection. CFA created a Fake Check Task Force to help raise awareness about these scams and protect consumers.

 

The telephone survey of 2,000 adults conducted for CFA by Opinion Research Corporation December 4-8, 2008 revealed that the most common fake check scams are those involving sweepstakes/lotteries (66 percent), grants (36 percent) and work-at-home opportunities (35 percent). In the sweepstakes and grant scenarios, the consumer receives a check or money order with instructions to wire a portion of the money to pay taxes or administrative fees. In the phony job offers, consumers are asked to process payments for a foreign business or make purchases as a mystery shopper and wire the remaining money to their employer minus their “pay.” Another popular variation of the scam is the “overpayment,” where the scammer offers to buy something the consumer has advertised for sale, sends a check or money order for more than the asking price, and tells the consumer to wire the extra to someone who will arrange for shipping.  

 

         “The check or money order is phony, and so is the person’s story,” explained Grant. “Unfortunately, the consumer usually doesn’t learn that until after sending the money.”  Federal law requires financial institutions to give consumers access to the money from checks or money orders they deposit quickly, usually within 1-5 business days, but just because funds are available doesn’t mean the check or money order is good. It may take weeks for the counterfeit to be discovered. When it is, the consumer is on the hook to repay the bank, credit union, or check cashing service.

 

Compounding the problem is consumer misunderstanding. Fifty-nine percent of the respondents in CFA’s survey incorrectly believe that when you deposit a check or money order, your bank confirms that it is good before allowing you to withdraw the money. The number goes up to 70 percent among young adults age 18-24, and 71 percent of people with incomes under $25,000 and who did not complete high school. More than 40 percent of those surveyed do not know that they are liable if the checks or money orders they deposit or cash are counterfeit. Fifty-two percent age 18-24 and half of Hispanics incorrectly said the person who gave you the check must pay the bank back.

 

Another factor is the fact that the scammers are hard to pursue. They often operate from Canada and other foreign countries, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement agencies to bring legal action against them, and they cover their tracks by picking up the money in cash and using phony identification.

 

Created in May 2008, CFA’s Fake Check Task Force brings nonprofit consumer organizations, law enforcement and consumer protection agencies, financial service companies, and other businesses and trade associations together to fight these scams through greater education and awareness. The campaign has several elements, including new information in English and Spanish about grant and mystery shopping scams on the National Consumers League’s www.fakechecks.org Web site and an ecard on the site that consumers can send to warn others about fake check scams. At www.consumerfed.org/fakecheckscams there are several new CFA resources for consumer education including a fact sheet and ready-to-use news articles in English and Spanish, and links to other materials.

 

The CFA Fake Check Task Force has also developed training materials about fake check scams for financial service companies and law enforcement and consumer protection agencies.  They explain how these scams work, suggest strategies for preventing victimization, offer advice about how to help victims, and provide resources for investigations and public education. These materials are not intended for the general public.

Consumer Tips to “Tear Up” Fake Check Scams

 

·  Never agree to pay to claim a prize. No legitimate sweepstakes or lottery would ever send you a check or money order and ask you to send payment in return. If you really won, you would pay taxes directly to the government.

 

·  Never agree to pay for grants from the government or foundations. They don’t offer money to people unexpectedly or charge to get it. Most grants go to organizations, not individuals, and require a lengthy and extensive application process. See new tips on grant scams at http://www.fakechecks.org/prevention-faqs04.html

 

·  Never agree to cash checks and send the money somewhere as part of a job working from home. That is not how legitimate employers operate. See new tips on mystery shopping scams at http://www.fakechecks.org/prevention-faqs05.html

 

·  Never agree to wire money to anyone you have not met in person and known for a long time.

 

·  If it seems suspicious, get advice. Consult your state or local consumer protection agency, the Federal Trade Commission, the Postal Inspection Service, or another trusted source.

 

·  Remember that there is no legitimate reason why anyone who wants to give you a check or money order for something would ever ask you to send money anywhere in return. Go to www.fakechecks.org to learn more about how to protect yourself from fake check scams.

Looking for Victims

I am working with a consumer advocacy group and they are looking for recent victims who are willing to talk to the press and have compelling stories to tell – people who lost money, especially in the lottery/sweepstakes, grants, and work-at-home variations of fake check scams.

This could turn into somethng VERY big that would help MANY others from becoming scam victims.

Would you be willing to speak with them?   If so, contact me and I would be more than happy to share more details on this with you.