Western Union Warns About Bail Scam

Date: Thursday, August 26, 2004

More victims of the telephone bail scam are popping up throughout the valley, but Western Union said it will attempt to alert consumers using their service to the scheme.

Danielle Pereira, spokeswoman for Western Union, said she will alert the organizationís security staff of this new twist on fraud.

They will notify all Western Union customer service representatives and agents, she said.

While it is the policy of Western Union to respect its consumersí privacy, if a patron should mention that a transaction is for bail money, the representative will advise them of the scam, Pereira said.

The scam begins with a phone call in which the caller poses as a victimís grandchild.

They tell the victim they are in jail and often pass the phone to another person who poses as a police officer. The individuals tell the victim how much money to send for bail to release their loved one and to send it via Western Union.

The money is usually picked up within minutes of being transferred, sheriffís officials have said.

Palm Desert resident Ruth Sylvester said when she wired $460 to Vista on Aug. 17 for her grandson, Rick, it was picked up within 10 minutes.

When she called to report it after reading an article in The Desert Sun about another woman who was victimized, investigators told her four more victims had also come forward.

When she made the transaction the Western Union representative asked her for her grandsonís name and age, but no other identifying factors, Sylvester said.

To pick up funds at Western Union, a person must provide the name the transfer is under and the amount or the money transfer confirmation number, which they could only get from the sending party, Pereira said.

The representatives require photo identification and take a copy of it, but would not necessarily be able to tell if it was counterfeit, she said.

A transaction can be canceled but only before it is picked up, Pereira said.

Once it is picked up itís just like cash.

"Think twice about sending money," she suggested. "Verify the circumstances with another family member."

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