DUBAI Money transfer giant Western Union has confirmed conmen are targeting residents using its name in a lottery scam.
It is not clear how many have been duped so far, but billions of dollars are thought to be fleeced out of victims every year in similar scams globally.
Many of them originate from Nigeria, with the worldwide popularity of Western Union abused to front the scams.
The lottery scam strikes in the form of e-mails sent to residents on behalf of Western Union saying they have won millions of dirhams in lotteries marking the 158th anniversary of Western Union in 2012.
Residents are asked to divulge information like banking details and to send money in tax and transfer fees before the prize money can be electronically delivered into their account.
The correspondence ends abruptly when conmen receive the ‘charges.’ Phone lines and e-mail addresses used by conmen subsequently fall dead.
Residents can also fall victim when their financial accounts are hacked using the banking information they had unwittingly shared with the conmen.
An official from Western Union in Dubai confirmed to XPRESS that the fake lottery messages were phishing e-mails. Phishing is a trick in which victims are asked to fill in sensitive information like bank or credit card details on a fake website or link masquerading as a genuine site.
“Western Union always advises [that] if someone contacts you claiming to be Western Union and asking for your password, bank details, or inviting you to click on a link, do not open the attached file or click on the links,” the official said.
“Forward any suspicious e-mails to firstname.lastname@example.org. Delete the e-mails immediately. Remember, Western Union will never send you an e-mail asking for your user ID or password.”
A British IT specialist said such e-mails are sent to millions of random addresses generated by computer. “Some phishing sites or links are so good, they even fool the real company’s staff into believing they’re genuine,” the specialist said.
“Other e-mails are dead give-aways – pixelated fake pictures, glaring spelling blunders, horrible grammar. A professional business would never ask for passwords, certainly not over e-mails that can’t even get your name right.
“But many people don’t know or don’t check, that’s another problem. If they (conmen) can just net just a few hundred people out of millions who are too trusting, their job’s done.”