Western Union will forfeit $586 million after admitting to the Justice Department that it aided and abetted wire fraud and did not maintain an effective program to deter money laundering. The money will be used to compensate victims of fraud and implement anti-fraud programs to protect older adults and others in the future.
The dollar amount is the largest forfeiture ever imposed on a money services business, according to the government, which announced agreements with the Englewood, CO-based company on Jan. 19. Several federal agencies were involved in the investigation.
Leaders of the Senate Special Committee on Aging praised the effort, saying that Western Union’s actions “disproportionately affected aging Americans.” Those actions, according to investigators, enabled the proliferation of mass marketing schemes, illegal gambling, money laundering, human smuggling and drug trafficking. Hundreds of millions of dollars in prohibited transactions were processed, they said.
In some cases, government officials said, fraudsters contacted U.S. residents and falsely posed as family members in need, or they promised prizes or job opportunities. The scammers directed the victims to send money through Western Union to help a relative or claim their prize. Various company agents were complicit in these schemes, often processing payments in return for a cut of the proceeds, government officials said.
The company heard about fraudulent transactions more than a decade ago through reports made by customers but did not implement guidelines that its security department subsequently proposed for the disciplining, suspension or firing of agents involved in the deals, the Justice Department said. As part of its agreements with the DOJ, Federal Trade Commission and four U.S. attorneys’ offices, Western Union said it will take steps to ensure that it complies with the law in the future.
“Americans have long been aware of ‘grandparent scams’ that encourage victims to transfer funds to fake family members allegedly in need of assistance,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), chairwoman of the Senate Aging Committee, said in a statement following the Justice Department announcement. “Our committee has worked to shine a spotlight on these criminals, and today’s action by the FTC and DOJ will help bring protections and restitution for innocent victims.”
People who believe they were victims of the fraud scheme can visit the Department of Justice website for instructions on how to request compensation through the Victim Asset Recovery Program.