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Western Union must refund $586 million to people it helped scam. Are you one of them?

A $586 million settlement between the federal government and Western Union will let people who wired money to scammers reclaim some of that cash.
A $586 million settlement between the federal government and Western Union will let people who wired money to scammers reclaim some of that cash. AP

Nearly everyone has been approached by scammers online -- people claiming you won the lottery or a prize, someone posing as a relative who needs money, or saying you owe them (or the government) money. There’s some good news for the unlucky ones who accidentally sent cash to scammers: You might finally be able to get some of that money back.

A new $586 million settlement between the federal government and the wiring service Western Union will pay back people who were cheated out of their money.

The suit alleged that Western Union knew about scammers using their service to trick people and intentionally didn’t report money laundering tactics being used on their service, according to a press release.

“Knowing that its agents were involved in fraudulent schemes – and knowing that it had a legal obligation to detect and report this criminal conduct to the authorities – Western Union failed to act, leading to massive victim losses,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco in a press release.

“American consumers lost money while Western Union looked the other way,” added FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen in a press release. “We’re pleased to start the process that will get that money back into consumers’ rightful hands.”

Here’s how the process works

If you ever sent money to a scammer through Western Union between January 1, 2004 and January 19, 2017, you can submit a claim.

If you already reported the scam to a federal agency back when it happened, you might automatically be getting a claim form in the mail.

If not, head over to FTC.gov/WU and follow the instructions on the settlement website. If you have documentation of the loss, make sure you attach it to your claim.

If not, it’s worth sending anyway - just submit as many details as possible about the scam, the FTC wrote.

After you send in the claim, the Department of Justice will have to verify that you did actually lose money to a scam. If that checks out, you’ll be getting back at least some of that money you lost - probably within a year, the FTC writes.

Why only some of it? It depends on how many people make claims and for how much. If lots of people claim they’ve had money stolen, the settlement ‘pot’ gets a little smaller, and people may receive less than what they actually lost.

It doesn’t cost anything to file a claim - but the deadline to do so is February 12, 2018.

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