How Scammers Use Western Union to Commit Fraud

Western Union. To use or not to use?

Let’s say you have a friend in a remote country who suddenly lost his money and ID documents. Western Union has created a convenient, immediate method to send money abroad.

Western Union works great IF you’re the one who receives the money. As a sender, wire transfers require caution to avoid Western Union scammers.

What Are Western Union Scams?

What Are Western Union Scams

Reliable? It depends on who you ask. With an effective payment method, you can effectively lose your money when sending it to a person you don’t trust. Unless you know the person, don’t wire money to strangers, especially when promising rewards or paying it back later.

In W.U. scams, people ask you to make a risky wire transfer for anything, requiring a single payment method. A legit deal turns into a scam the moment you pay upfront with no buyer protection.

Think of charities, online stores, remote jobs, lotteries, or services. You don’t absolutely need a wire transfer in 90% of cases. Those who can’t accept methods other than Western Union or Moneygram are likely trying to con you.

Types Of Western Union Scams

Types Of Western Union Scams

#1 Overpayments

A stranger who promised you big money for a fee sent you the check upfront. You need to cash it in and wire him 10% of the amount. Then, you can enjoy your winnings!


You receive the money before the check clears, which doesn’t guarantee that you will keep it. If you spend that money and the cleared check shows “Fake,” you get into debt.

The scammer takes the wired money and leaves you a fake money order.

Learn more about Fake Check Scams

#2 W.U. Refund Program

Many Western Union users are familiar with the popular scams. It’s not hard to find someone who has lost money because of W.U. con men. It doesn’t take much to scam naive people, but how do you trick the smartest, who usually have more money?

Fake-refund con men can scam those who lost money in the past. You come in with a different promise, and the person will believe it.

Fraudsters use partial truth when it comes to Refund programs. It’s true that Western Union refunds money if no-one has taken it yet. But they can’t give back some money they don’t have if others have scammed you already. Western Union agents will help in those cases they can, but they will not issue refunds if the money was picked up already.

Online scammers will promise to return you everything no matter what. You just either pay a recovery fee or give them your bank details. You know, so they can verify your identity.

Now you’ve been scammed twice perhaps by the same person.

#3 The “Secret” Code

The scammer wants to give the impression that your Western Union transfer is private and safe. They will tell you to hide the MTCN and send them a screenshot of your receipt. They want you to prove you wired the money.

According to the scammer, hiding that code will prevent unwanted people from picking it up. But all the con man needs is your receipt, then show it to Western Union, and pick up the funds. No-one will ask you for the “secret number.”

  • Is your wire transfer being processed?
  • Is the wired money still in your bank?
  • Have the funds got to Western Union?

The Money Transfer Control Number merely shows the status of your order by entering ten digits. It has no usage for security. They want you to wire money upfront and get your receipt.

#4 From W.U. To Escrow

After the disagreement, the person accepts using escrow for one condition. You need to wire money to the escrow he recommends. 

It won’t be, but some unknown platform with little or no history. He claims your money will be safe after you wire to this address. But who’s behind the bogus escrow? The same con man.

A Western Union scammer can also pose as an clone. He will want you to deposit funds via his link, which has some unique ID or some other excuse.

Wiring to a bogus escrow is not different from sending money to a stranger.

Find more on our Guide To Prevent Escrow Scams

#5 Phishing/Security Emails

If a fishy dealer accepts your payment method, don’t surprise if you get flooded by phishing emails. Because you reached out first, the con man knows you want the deal and have plenty of money. Knowing they know your contact information, that turns you into the ideal phishing victim.

If you don’t do what they want, scammers may want to steal your accounts to act on your behalf.

Get ready for verification alerts from Paypal,, Western Union, and whatnot. If they know you have the money they want, they’ll try any method they know to dupe you.

What Are The Warning Signs?

What Are The Warning Signs

The seller may own a legit business with reputation and quality products. But that doesn’t mean they can’t con you on the payment method.

Instead of revising the company, look at the way they tolerate risk. If they use sneaky policies with no regard for buyer protection, we have a problem.

#1 They despise escrow

If you can’t get to a payment agreement, the best you can do is using an escrow company. Thus, you can move ahead without trusting each other.

But the scammer doesn’t care about the actual money; they just want to take away your control on the deal. By forcing you to follow one path, they can control whether you make money or lose it.

You rationalize with them, but it’s useless. These sellers either accept Western Union wire transfers or money orders. They have no problem offering a price below the market, but they can’t complete a simple payment request.

Nobody makes money at bargain prices, so why do they use them? To make you follow their way. Because “if you really want it, you’d be willing to follow the instructions.” Stay away from inflexible dealers.

#2 They rush with instructions

Once you tell them you’re interested, they will try to micromanage every decision you make.

  • Are you ok with this price/deal?
  • Can you accept this payment method?
  • When will you go to wire the money?
  • Are businesses open today?
  • How long will it take?

You know it’s a payment scam when the seller talks about the payment processing more than the product itself.

You make one question, they ignore it and counter with another payment question. If you don’t respond to it, they either keep repeating themselves like a bot or give up.

  • When will the payment be ready?
  • Why haven’t you sent it yet?
  • Are you in the post office already?
  • Write back right after you finish.

Scammers will follow up aggressively to make sure everything goes as planned. One mistake could reveal the scheme, which is why they want as much control as possible.

#3 You pay first

The client pays first before getting the service. If the scammer is the one who promises to send money, they will be able to request a refund while you won’t.

You did the impossible. You got an inheritance from a remote familiar, won the lottery six times, found a trading advisor, among other money opportunities. All you need to do is pay first and let the other take care of the rest.

That’s right. Give away control and hope they aren’t lying on those promises you didn’t question. You’ll get your reward, right? That’s not their problem.

Scammers sometimes send money first as long as you send yours with no buyer protection. The scammer risks nothing; the money sent is either fake or refundable. Here are examples:

  • Wire transfer 20%, we send you the item, then you transfer the rest.
  • Pay with Paypal Friends & Family. We don’t accept Goods & Services.
  • Subtract X amount from the check, send it to us, and enjoy the rest of it.

Find more in our Complete Guide To Advance Fee Fraud

#4 Fraudulent Method

What if you receive a check worth thousands of dollars? The scammer will tell you to cash out immediately. If you consult your bank first, they will tell you whether it’s genuine or fraudulent.

It only takes a quick phone call to recognize the scam. Also, if you detect payment fraud after you wired money, Western Union will refund you if nobody has picked it up yet.

#5 Western Union didn’t message you before

SMS from W.U., confirmation emails, and staff phone calls. You’ve been using Western Union for years and never got a message from them until today.

After you talked to that sneaky seller, you started receiving what looks like a phishing email designed to steal your identity. Perhaps this W.U. asks you for your sensitive data on the phone for “account security reasons.”

If you didn’t receive any until very recently, think of who you’ve been talking to in the last week or month. What new people have access to your contact information? Someone you don’t know in person could be playing on your confusion.

#6 “Not a scam”

You can’t commit to what the con man is asking— but you want the deal— so you say: “I’m asking for buyer protection measures to avoid falling for a scam. My method is the most secure for both.”

Then, the fraudster tries some confidence tricks:

“I understand you. I’ve been scammed as well, and they never refunded me [affinity group]. We can guarantee a safe payment if you follow my instructions [faulty promise]. I’m also willing to take risks.”

All of it comes to say: This isn’t a scam, so why even caring about security?

A person who doesn’t care about cyber protection doesn’t work for your interests.

(see Confidence Tricks)


The Bottom Line 5

If you’re looking for the fastest international payment, think of Western Union. They’ve been leading the money transfer business for almost two decades, which makes them reliable.

Unfortunately, Western Union is too big to monitor every single wrong thing on their system. After all, you can’t offer much freedom on payments without creating some loopholes for scammers to exploit.

What matters is protecting against those flaws, sticking to the Western Union guidelines, and using the method only when necessary.

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