November 8, 2018
by Karen Dodge
Staff Attorney, Midwest Region, FTC
We’ve all known for a long time that scammers ask people to pay by wiring money. Money wiring companies like MoneyGram and Western Union have also known that scammers have people wire money using their services. In fact, the FTC has sued both companies – which have paid a lot of money to settle those charges – over exactly that issue. When the FTC settled with those companies (MoneyGram in 2009, Western Union in 2017), they also agreed to make changes to protect people from fraud In law, fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain (money or other assets), or to deprive a victim of a legal right. Fraud can violate civil law (e.g., a fraud victim may sue the fraud perpetrator to avoid the fraud or recover monetary compensation) or criminal law (e.g., a fraud perpetrator may be prosecuted and imprisoned by governmental authorities), or it may cause no loss of money, property, or legal right but still be an element of another civil or criminal wrong. The purpose of fraud may be monetary gain or other benefits, for example by obtaining a passport, travel document, or driver's license, or mortgage fraud, where the perpetrator may attempt to qualify for a mortgage by way of false statements.
A fraud can also be a hoax, which is a distinct concept that involves deliberate deception without the intention of gain or of materially damaging or depriving a victim.. Except MoneyGram didn’t actually take some of those important steps.
That’s why the FTC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) just announced a new settlement with MoneyGram for $125 million. That money will eventually go back to people who wired – and lost – money to a scammer through MoneyGram starting in 2013. (There will be a date range for eligible refund requests. Exact dates will follow.)
Here’s the story: in 2009, MoneyGram had promised to vet the agents they were hiring, train them to spot fraud, monitor them to watch for fraud-related money transfers, take action if they saw an agent who didn’t try to reduce fraud, and also record fraud complaints and share them with the FTC.
But the FTC’s investigation showed that MoneyGram hadn’t adequately done those things – especially in their large chain outlets. And MoneyGram’s system that should have helped spot and stop fraudsters operating in plain sight? It basically didn’t work for a year and a half, letting millions of dollars in fraud-related transfers go through.
Now, MoneyGram has to put in place more protections that address all the ways it did not follow the order last time. And pay that $125 million to DOJ, which will work with the FTC to set up a refund program to get it back to people.
What should you do to get a refund? Right now, nothing. It might take several months for the refund process to even start. When it does, it will be free to request a refund. And we’ll tell you here and at ftc.gov/MoneyGram what happens next.