Thursday, July 18, 2013

Western Union...the alternative to checks

Our son, being a responsible young man, needed to pay off a debt to us recently. He had asked that I order a book for his sister and he wanted an upgrade on his phone. Because I had been at war, AGAIN, with Verizon, I was able to get him a $39. upgrade to an I phone 4. Because Alex doesn't have a bank account with checks, he decided to wire the money to us via Western Union. That might be a great idea if one lives in a city...but, the closest location to us was at a Shell gas station 17 miles away.

No problem. Off I went to get the payment sent very quickly after I had told him the amount required. Start to finish, the process of retrieving the $59. took one hour and a half, including drive time. What took so long? Well, Alex sent me a code which I needed to give to the cashier. When asked, I told the Shell cashier I had the code and he pointed to an old fashioned white phone and asked me to dial the number taped to the phone handle.

The person answering the phone,  asked me for the code and then....we began playing 40 questions. I was asked my name, which I got wrong! I said, "Teresa Calkins" and was told that was incorrect. At this point, I became intrigued. Alex would never have given my name starting with Maria. So, I gave the Western Union rep, "Maria Teresa Calkins" and we moved on to my address, my PO Box number, our zip, my driver's license number, our son's name and finally, his address, which I could not remember. I had the street name correct, but not the actual house number. But this is the good ole USA, so, I was given another chance...what is the zip code for Juneau? Somehow, I pulled that out of my butt and got it correct. Final question? How much money is being sent to you? I knew that because I had told Alex the amount and assumed he was sending the whole amount.

At this point, I was asked to write down another code, which I did. I had to give this to the Shell cashier, which he punched into another device. That printed out a code which he could input and which generated a lengthy yellow receipt for me, and a much shorter Western Union check.  Western Union checks cannot be cashed anywhere other than at a Western Union station, by the way. So, the cashier cashed my check and gave me the $59. and asked me to sign the check indicating that I had actually received the money.

Transaction complete! Now, inquiring minds had to ask...what happens if I am sent $2000.? The cashier said he could handle that but I would have to call ahead a couple of days to let him know that this was going to happen. Additionally, I would need to  know what time I would come in because he would have to go to the bank to get that much cash. The whole way home I kept thinking that it would really be much easier to buy a box of checks than go through such a tedious process. When I got home, I called Alex to share this process with him.

To send the money to me, he had to answer only four questions and he did not have my driver's license number and couldn't have given that if anyone had asked. Nor did he give my name as Maria Teresa Calkins. He didn't have to give a zip, just city and state. I mentioned to a now quite upset young man, that the cashier had told me that this process was much easier just a few months ago. Terrorism and fraud have caused Western Union to use much larger databases to confirm who is sending and receiving money. Yup...big brother is watching us and pulling bunches of pieces of data about us into pots so that places like Western Union can double check that I am not a terrorist nor have I stolen a code sent via text from my son's phone to me. WOW!! 

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