Steve Weisman is a lawyer, college professor, author, and one of the country’s leading experts in cybersecurity, identity theft, and scams. See Steve’s other Con Watch articles.
A common theme in many scams, including phony lottery scams and the infamous grandparent scam, is that the criminals will require the victim to wire money. Once money has been wired it is impossible to trace or stop the payment.
In response to this problem, the Federal Trade Commission filed charges against Western Union in 2017 and MoneyGram in 2009. According to the FTC, it wasn’t that these companies were active co-conspirators, but instead they turned blind eye to the fact that their services were being used by criminals. Both companies settled the FTC’s claims and agreed to make substantial changes in how they did business in order to reduce fraud.
While Western Union has been adhering to the terms of its settlement, the FTC determined that MoneyGram was not implementing the fraud prevention standards agreed upon, and consequently the FTC brought new charges against MoneyGram, which were settled in 2018. Among the terms of the new settlement was a payment by MoneyGram of $125 million to the FTC to be returned to people who were victimized by scammers through MoneyGram between 2013 and 2017. Now, three years later, the FTC is sending payments.
The FTC has hired Gilardi & Company LLC as the settlement administrator in charge of sending claim forms and payments. The pre-filled claim forms indicate the amount of money you lost according to MoneyGram’s records. If you agree with the amount, complete the rest of the form and mail it back before the deadline or submit your claim online at moneygramremission.com. The form does ask for your Social Security number, which you will need to provide; before sending a refund, the federal government uses it verify that you don’t owe any money to the federal government, such as overdue income taxes. If you do not agree with the amount of loss indicated on the form, you will need to provide documentation to prove your actual loss.
Since the legitimate form asks for your Social Security number, many people are rightfully skeptical as to whether they are getting the real form or one sent by a scammer. The real form has a return address of
United States v. MoneyGram International, Inc.
P.O. Box 43549
Providence, Rhode Island 02940-3549
It also lists the phone number for Gilardi & Co.— 844-269-2630 — and carries the official seal of the Department of Justice and the United States Postal Inspection Service. No fee is required to file your claim. Any communication that asks for a payment in order to file your claim is a scam.
If you believe you are a victim of the MoneyGram scam but didn’t receive a prefilled claim form, you can file a claim on your own after June 1, 2021. In order to qualify for a refund you must have sent money to a scammer through MoneyGram between January 1, 2013, and December 31, 2017. According to the FTC it will take at least a year to review and verify claims before further refunds will be sent.
Of course, the best thing to do is to avoid scams like this in the first place. Whenever anyone requests that payment be made by way of a wire transfer, you should immediately be skeptical because of the impossibility of getting your money back if the deal is a scam or if anything goes wrong.
But it isn’t just wired funds that crooks prefer. They also are very fond of gift cards.
Con artists are big fans of gift cards because they are easy to purchase, easy to send, and impossible to trace. It is not even necessary for them to be in possession of the actual gift card to use it. Sending the gift card numbers or a picture of the card is sufficient. Last year the (FTC) released a new report indicating that since 2018, consumers have been bilked out of almost $245 million through gift card scams. Gift cards are commonly used by criminals posing as a government agent, tech support, or even an online romantic interest.
Fortunately, gift card scams are easy to avoid. Anytime anyone approaches you with a business transaction in which you are asked to pay through gift cards, you can be confident that it is a scam. The IRS has even had to post on its website that it does not accept gift cards as payment.
The safest way to make a payment that you believe to be legitimate is your credit card, where federal law protects you from liability.
Featured image: chrisdorney / Shutterstock
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