(CBS) — For more than 10 years, scammers have been using Western Union offices worldwide to steal more than $600 million from people.
2 Investigator Pam Zekman has been reporting on those scams, and now has some good news for victims: A settlement deal Western Union made with the feds could put some money back in your pocket, if you were a victim.
The online photos were adorable and showed teacup Yorkie puppies for sale.
“I had fallen in love with the puppy that I had seen,” recalls Tatyana Lampkin.
So, Lampkin wired a $200 down payment through a Chicago Western Union office to pay for a puppy she never got.
That left Lampkin angry and frustrated, she says, “because my children were expecting that puppy — their hopes were high.”
Lampkin did eventually get a new puppy elsewhere and now she has a real chance at getting her money back.
This is because of settlements in federal cases against Western Union.
“It does hold Western Union accountable for the fact that it knew that fraudsters were using its system to get money from victims for a variety of scams,” explains Todd Kossow of the Chicago offices of the Federal Trade Commission.
Those scams included lottery or prize scams, dating and romance scams, loan scams and the so-called grandparent scam.
Grandparent Lawrence Allgaier fell for that one when someone claiming to be his grandson called his home.
“He was in terrible trouble in Allentown, Pennsylvania,” Allgaier remembers the caller telling him. “He has been in a wreck that was his fault, and they had put him in jail and he didn’t know what to do and he was terribly upset and he was crying.”
Allgaier wired $3,000 from a Western Union office that was to go for an attorney, bond and car repairs.
Later, Allgaier learned his grandson was with his mother all along.
“I said, ‘Oh, no, I’ve been scammed,’” Allgaier said.
The FTC’s Kossow says Western Union received more than 550,000 complaints that allege losses of more than $632 million. “That’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he says.
Now, Western Union has agreed to warn customers about fraud, to take action against agents generating complaints and pay $586 million to reimburse the past fraud victims, like Lampkin.
But beware: Scammers could try to take advantage.
“If someone calls you and wants you to pay them to help you get a claim approved in the Western Union restitution process, that’s a scam,” Kossow says. “So, they’re essentially going to get scammed twice.”
To find out if you’re eligible and for details on how to file a claim, go to this webpage.