The Fastest Way To Lose Money: The Western Union Scam That Keeps Plaguing Facebook

Mahmoud pepsi
An even worse brand endorsement than the Western Union Scam, with apologies to Getty Images and Pepsi

Here’s today’s column, originally from MediaPost, with more information on the scam alert I recently discussed.Oh, and MediaPost butchered my title – not the first time. They changed it to “SocialMedia: The Fastest Way to Lose Money?” I think that changes the meaning of it. Griping over, the column’s below.

The Fastest Way To Lose Money

Friday night, a friend of mine
instant-messaged me on Facebook saying he needed my help. On his
profile, there were several messages urging people to contact him right
away. I was of course concerned.

Soon it became apparent that
it wasn’t my friend at all. His identity had been hijacked by a scammer
who posted the messages to his profile and IMed his friends. The
Nigerian scam has been going on in this form at least since January,
when Silicon Alley Insider and TechCrunch
reported on it. It’s a reminder that wherever consumers go, scammers
and other malevolent elements will follow. In this case, it’s also an
unfortunate brand association with Western Union, as you’ll see
momentarily.

Excerpts of the conversation are below, and you can read the entire transcript on my blog. I’ve changed the name of my friend to Walter Jenkins, but otherwise it’s verbatim.

Walter:
I had to visit a resort here in London on vacation and I got robbed at
the hotel Im staying… Its really sucks and scary here… I got robbed
at a gun point and all my money and stuffs got stolen but im lucky I
still have my passport with me. Well, can I ask for a favor?

David: what do you need?

Walter:
What i need now is just some cash to complete my tix till im back home
to refund you back. Can you help with some money?… $390 pounds is all
i need more. I can get it from the ATM for you first thing as soon as
Im back home… You can get it to me here using western union. You need
just my name as written on my passport and the location here. Do you
know how to go about with the western union thing?

David: Using paypal to transfer funds won’t do anything for you?

Walter: Im glad you are helping Dav. Western union is very easy to transfer money and to receive money. [An
aside: this is just about the worst brand endorsement a marketer could
ever receive, which would be topped only if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was
shown drinking a Pepsi while jailing election protestors
.]

David: If you’re online, can’t i just use paypal?

Walter: I don’t have paypal acct [He’s a technology entrepreneur. If the red flags weren’t up already, they’re signaling major alarms here.]

David: what’s the location

Walter: United Kingdom London… Do you know any western union location around you?… You will be given a confirmation number

David: yes i found many locations. i can help. tell me more about where you are. [At this point, I’m stringing him along to get as much information as possible in case it’s helpful later.]

Walter:
I’ll be needing it to pick up the money. You need just my name as
written on my passport and my location here. Name:Walter Jenkins.
Location United Kingdom, London

David: okay but there are many locations in london, tell me more about where you are

Walter: I can pick up the money at any western union location

David: Okay, great. so tell me why you only need 390 GBP if you were held up at gunpoint

Walter: I need it to complete my ticket and fly back home.

David: how about i just buy you the ticket? i’ll go online and buy it for you. tell me which flight you want, which airports

Walter: I’ll need the cash for some things more

David: Well if you already have some money for the ticket, use the money you have for the other things. i’ll buy the ticket [This exchange went on for awhile, leading nowhere.]

Walter: Im in a library here using the comp here to get on facebook for help

David: a friend of mine happens to be at heathrow right now, i just IMed him. can i have him meet you there?

Walter: Well, Its okay if you can’t help

David: i can help. what flight are you taking?

Walter: B.A. Why can’t you go to the store and have it done now?

David: What time is your flight?

Walter: I don’t think you really want to help. Its okay. the manager will be helping me to purchase the ticket here

David:
oh that is SOOO nice of him, then you can use your money to buy
whatever else you need. which library are you at? that way i can look
up how far you are from heathrow.

Then it abruptly stopped
talking. I managed to save the conversation just in time, as soon he
defriended me. I still had access to read his Facebook Wall (though not
post on it), so I emailed a few people who responded to the scammer’s
posts there and let them know. The next day, my friend had his account
back and we were friends again.

If your account is compromised, Facebook will disable it. It can be reinstated after contacting them via a form.
A Facebook representative told Silicon Alley Insider, “We’re reminding
users to be very suspicious of anyone, even friends, who ask you over
the Internet to send money.  Please verify their circumstances through
some other means than the web (e.g. call them or mutual friends).” You
should also make sure they share information about themselves that
isn’t publicly available on Facebook or elsewhere.

As for Western Union, there’s a section on its site about scams,
but no mention of this one. That’s a shame. In the meantime, the Walter
Jenkins impersonators out there are doing a good job representing
Western Union’s brand. “Walter” is doing well spreading the word, as
the top city by far searching Google for ‘westernunion.com’ is Lagos, Nigeria. If you run into him or his buddies, don’t send cash. See if he’ll go for a Facebook gift instead.

 

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