Trust & Safety Blog

Western Union and Trade Me members: A terrible combination

Western -union -neon -lights -logo

If we’re ever contacted by a member saying they’ve sent money via Western Union, our hearts sink a little as we know 97 times out of 100 they will have just fallen victim to a scammer.

Of the nine successful scams through Trade Me last year, eight used Western Union to steal the funds.

In the life cycle of a scam, there are a number of points where the individuals involved and the businesses used to perpetrate the scam could intervene and prevent the scam from being successful.

It all starts with the potential victim: if they know what to look out for, they won’t become victims and the scammers will move on.

When a scam occurs on Trade Me, we have the opportunity to protect the victim – this is why we invest heavily in tools and staff to prevent, deter and frustrate scamming.

Another critical intervention point is what the scam is all about – the transfer of money.

If wire transfer companies and other financial institutions are not 100 per cent switched on and committed to preventing fraud, they are making it quicker and more efficient for the bad guys to scam innocent Kiwis.

It is frustrating that despite the work we do to prevent people falling victims to scams – scammers are still able to use wire transfer companies to get paid.

Our advice

Our number one piece of advice for anyone contemplating sending money overseas is that there is no good reason for Trade Me members to use Western Union. It’s that simple.

Why? Every Trade Me member needs to have a New Zealand bank account to accept payment, or, in the case of our international sellers, they must offer Pay Now.

If you are trading on Trade Me in anything other than a face-to-face deal and you are asked to use any payment method other than a domestic bank deposit or Pay Now, stop and contact us as you may be being scammed.

Obviously cash is fine if you are doing a face-to-face deal. But sending money via Western Union to a shipping agent or ‘friendly Kiwi’ working in London/Afghanistan/Lagos is an invitation to never see that cash again.

It’s a sad reality that the internet has meant the traditional con man has moved into the digital realm. We work hard to keep them out of our patch but everyone who uses the internet needs to be circumspect with whom they communicate, and follow these three rules when using Trade Me:

• Never send money overseas via a wire transfer service
• Only complete trades via Trade Me so there is a trail
Consider using Pay Now

There is a clear social and economic cost to the funds Western Union is transferring from innocent New Zealanders to scammers every day.

We’re not saying Western Union and other wire transfer companies are responsible for scamming – but they are making it easier and emboldening the criminals who prey on Kiwis.

We are not alone in warning our members not to use international wire transfer companies including Western Union. Ebay, Gumtree and Craigslist have also expressed their concerns emphatically.

We think consumer protection is a team game. Trade Me has a moral obligation to do the best it can to prevent scammers being successful.

Wire transfer companies do too.

We believe Western Union has become the scammers’ preferred wire transfer company and needs to do more to prevent fraud victims from sending money.

It shouldn’t hide behind its business model to avoid the sobering reality that New Zealanders are losing millions of dollars a year in fraud.

We all have to do our bit.

Creative Commons image used courtesy of radiobread on Flickr.

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