This is not a scam. Asking for a wire to an international address.
March 18, 2014 7:17 AM   Subscribe

Mom, who only communicates through e-mail but has a distinctive style and insider information (so I know it's Mom), is traveling in the UK until 4/8/2014. She thought the lost her debit and credit card so she cancelled them. Now she has only her cash which won't get her all the way there. My challenge: figure out (with your help!) the best way to get her some funds so she can enjoy the trip.

First, let's get this out of the way: I know this is an ultra-common scam with hacked accounts but I am certain that the person writing to me is my Mom. She's got the right word choice, writing style and information that we've not communicated about on e-mail previously. Please no dire warnings that I/we are getting scammed.

Despite this, I would love to have advice on doing this but doing it securely so as not to impact other assets in case the transfer gets compromised somehow.

Mom has about 7 - 10 days of comfortable living money on hand.

I have durable power of attorney documents for Mom's financial instruments. They're not on file with her banks though, and I know there can be a delay there.

My ideal resolution would be to get her AirBnB reservation sorted out on this end with my credit card and get her bank to express her credit and debit cards out to her at her location. If I can't do this, my second priority is to actually wire her money or get her some other financial instrument that's just as good - like a prepaid credit card? But having never done this before, I would appreciate advice on how best to do that at a non-outrageous surcharge.

I'd love advice stemming from recent personal experience but even good starting points would do me a good service.

No loans will be required by any stretch of the imagination, so it's a problem that boils down to a simple transfer of either cards or money.

Thank you very much in advance.
posted by kalessin to Work & Money (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First, verify *on the phone* that it's your mum. Then find out where she is, and get her to a Western Union agent, a lof of newsagents do this.
posted by devnull at 7:19 AM on March 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

Another option: MoneyGram which can be collected in a Debenhams department store (among other locations).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:23 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, I am doing my best to verify that it's Mom, either on the phone or with Facetime or Google Hangouts or something. I'm also continuing to ask her for corroborating information as we go along this path. Please do not worry about this aspect of it. I've got professional IT security training and experience. I'm not an expert but I consider that I can handle this part of the question (proving that the request is coming from a trusted source).
posted by kalessin at 7:27 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you considered working through the US embassy? Verification of a US citizen should be right up their alley, and it wouldn't surprise me if they would assist.
posted by plinth at 7:40 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is there a reason she can't communicate directly with her banks herself? With every problem I've had, the best and fastest way to resolve international issues has been to work with them directly-- the loss of cards internationally is pretty common. If she banks at all with Citibank or HSBC there are offices in UK that should be even easier to arrange for new materials to be sent to her. If she was able to cancel the cards, was there an issue arranging for new ones when she talked to the companies? Were they not able to ship the replacements abroad?

For AirBnB, I would think that's the easiest; she can presumably just change the information in her account to yours for the billing section of the website after writing the hosts, unless you have her password for that and can do it yourself-- I suppose either way that doing this by email is unsecured, but it might be safer for you to get her password, alter the info, and then change it again. She may already have been charged-- I thought I was as soon as I accepted the fees etc, but maybe that varies by apartment holder.

I have gotten emergency Western Union transfers in the UK and while the fees were quite stiff, I think the only way around that is by transferring a large chunk once, or by figuring out another option that doesn't involve a wire transfer. It was not difficult even thirteen years ago and there are many, many places she can pick it up.

Do you know where in the UK she is? It might be easier to come up with alternatives or a plan if you know exactly where the nearest internet points/wire transfer locales/banks are.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:46 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agreed with jetlagaddict, unless she has also lost all her identification, she should be the one communicating with her bank. You should not be involved in any transactional capacity here. If a user forgets their password, would you generate a new one and email it to them in plaintext, or would you send them the link to the official "forgot your password" reset form?
posted by Jairus at 7:50 AM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might check out the fee structure to wire money via American Express offices.
posted by sockanalia at 7:50 AM on March 18, 2014

Has she tried simply calling her financial institutions and asking them to express mail new cards to her at her location? I've had to replace lost cards while travelling (in a third-world country even) and it wasn't that complicated. If she's got 7-10 days of cash on hand she should have no problem.
posted by drlith at 7:51 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Assuming that her credit card was a major card with international offices, would she be able to go in person to, for example, a Visa office? They might be able to help her out. Several years ago I found myself stuck without cash while travelling internationally. I couldn't use my credit card to withdraw from an ATM because I did not know the PIN. I went to a Visa office, identified myself with my passport etc, and was able to get a cash advance on my credit card directly from the office. I was not in the UK, but I imagine that doing this in an English-speaking country would only have been easier.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:53 AM on March 18, 2014

Mom is really against using or carrying a phone or cell phone. It's a personal quirk of hers and I've been working on her about it for years. I have requested she call me as soon as possible, promising it'll be quicker to sort it all out on the phone rather than exchanging e-mails delayed by the timezone difference and our schedules.

When she cancelled the cards she borrowed someone's phone but she didn't think to also call me.

She banks with a bank local to California, so international banking won't work, unfortunately, with where her funds sit right now. I will ask her to ask her bank for replacement cards though. In principle I agree about how it should be her who talks to the banks, but I think she's relying on me more and more to handle these matters and what with the phone issue, it makes it doubly hard on her.

I called AirBnB to just sort out those logistics and it turns out that they charge when you reserve the AirBnB listing, so they're not going to charge the card again for this stay unless there's a need for the security deposit or she wants to extend her stay.

She is in London so I don't think availability logistics will be tough.

Good idea about the embassy, though.

I feel like I'm threadsitting.
posted by kalessin at 7:53 AM on March 18, 2014

Depending on her card/bank, she should be able to request the cards directly from her bank and have them fedex it to wherever she is or arrange for a pick-up at a local branch in the UK. That's pretty standard and they will just charge her for the additional cost.

If you need to wire her money, and she is travelling, Western Union is your best option. If she has access to any of her own accounts through an ATM withdrawal card etc, then just transfer into that.

Western Union is cheaper than a credit card cash advance in my experience. It's really straightforward and takes like 1 hour from when you transfer to when she can pick up. But DO NOT give the collection code to her by email. Only after you have spoken to her and sorted things out, and give it to her over the phone.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:55 AM on March 18, 2014

Agree with the responses above - losing cards while traveling abroad is rather common, and the UK is not (yet) some third world hellhole. (I kid, I kid)

If she mentions that she has a few days of cash on hand, it's not even that hard for a small bank in California to get stuff to the US embassy, if nowhere else.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:56 AM on March 18, 2014

if she has enough cash on hand for a week, then her banks should easily be couriering new cards to her hotel (or wherever she's staying) with plenty of time. They should've offered to do that while she was on the phone canceling the cards in the first place, and it strikes me as incredibly odd that they wouldn't have discussed that with her while she already had them on the phone.
posted by Andrhia at 8:03 AM on March 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Nthing Western Union. They're good about security and verifying the recipient is legit, and my father was easily able to get some money to me when I had a similar bank account access cock-up during a trip to Ireland 20 years ago.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:27 AM on March 18, 2014

If she spoke with her bank to cancel the cards, they would have already offered to send her new cards while on the phone with her, no?

Yes. Yes they would have.
posted by jbenben at 9:47 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

The way I see it, there are three choices and one other possibility:

1. Replacement cards sent to her by the bank. This is possible and it can either be to the US embassy or to the Airbnb place. But it seems like this is not what your mum wants.

2. You send cash. In which case it's Western Union or Moneygram, pretty much.

3. You FedEx prepaid debit cards. Visa makes these and I'm sure you could get a few.

4. Even if the bank is a small, local bank in California, they will have relationships with the international banks and it may be possible to arrange for their GBP correspondent bank to give her cash directly. (I do not know if this is possible, you would have to speak to her bank.)

Best of luck.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop at 10:18 AM on March 18, 2014

Mom refuses (completely in character for her) to call me. We had a short conversation about the lost-wallet-was-mugged-while-traveling-internationally-please-send-money scam and instead of calling, we had an email exchange full of very personal and captchas (including trick questions) that it would be difficult for someone to impersonate. So I'm pretty genuinely reassured by that, despite getting a little freaky about it when I started getting answers here reminding me of those risks, thank you.

As far as I've been able to determine, the California bank's offer to send replacement cards was one she refused due to timing issues and her further plans to move around in the UK while she continues to visit and tour the area before she returns home.

I believe we will arrange Western Union, thank you all for recommending that. I'll make sure she has my phone number in addition to the WU metadata required for successful transaction, in case the WU representative wishes to phone me for any other details.
posted by kalessin at 10:30 AM on March 18, 2014

OP - Why does your mom have the power to dictate so much of this exchange? Why not wait a few hours and call her at her hotel tonight?

Despite your reassurances, this situation doesn't sound, at best, like a clear and even exchange between you and mom. (And if your mom is the kind of drama lama who likes to create emergencies and then keeps upping the ante so that it's all but impossible to solve the problem, don't solve her problem.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:47 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is no phone I'm aware of at the AirBnB place she's staying at. She doesn't carry a phone and I don't know anyone in London who can personally check up on her.

It also seems like you're making this situation between me Mom and me more combative than it really is. I willingly help her. I understand her self-imposed limitations and for the most part (except I think she should carry an emergency throwaway phone for emergencies, but I'm not going to bolt one to her femur) and this situation is as far as I know resolved and hunky dory.
posted by kalessin at 11:01 AM on March 18, 2014

Kalessin, people aren't suggesting that the situation between you and your Mom is combative. They are suggesting that it may not be your Mom who is emailing. And until you talk to her directly there will always be that question.
posted by miles1972 at 11:05 AM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Western union really is the way to go here. She'll need ID and a passphrase to pick up the cash, and they have locations everywhere. That's pretty much the reason every scammer ever wants you to use western union - it's very easy to do and gets the money there nearly instantly.
posted by zug at 11:19 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I should warn that it isn't the cheapest option, expect to pay $20 or $30 to get the cash there, but if she needs cash NOW it is absolutely the easiest option.
posted by zug at 11:20 AM on March 18, 2014

I consider it untenable to not support my Mom in this situation. I'm convinced it really is her. If I'm wrong it'll cost me the money she's asking for. Which would suck, but it wouldn't be nearly as bad as ignoring her requests because someone on the internet doesn't believe it's her. :)
posted by kalessin at 11:27 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

> I'm convinced it really is her. If I'm wrong ... it would suck

I think most people are getting hung up on this - it seems so easy to eliminate that "if". Or to have the bank deal directly with her. Or to go to the Embassy and sort things out there.

"Doveryai, no proveryai."
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:33 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not really worth it to me to make her go to the Embassy at this point. As I framed the original question, I'm not looking for assistance in identifying her to my (or anyone else's) satisfaction. The info I've thus far provided is meant to reassure the folks who've asked, but I'm not really concerned if it's not enough proof as far as anyone but I am concerned.

I did ask for and do appreciate the information on how to try to assure more transactional security and authentication, but weighing the pros and cons and overall risk, I'm totally okay with where things sit here, and okay with the (what I consider slim) risk that I may be sending money to a complete stranger who has quite successfully stolen her identity.

Given what I've worked out with her is good with me, I'm not looking for more feedback or examination of the authentication process. I'd love to hear more about alternatives for sending money and details about those alternatives, but not really into having more questions arise or be asked about the authentication process. Please consider that portion resolved.
posted by kalessin at 11:38 AM on March 18, 2014

I think my primary concern at this point would be Mom's safety. A money scam is one thing, but what if she's communicated the fact that she doesn't carry a phone, doesn't "do" things like embassies, doesn't talk with her family every day, has a non-international bank, and then "lost" her bank cards for a time (as in just long enough to be copied), cancelled the cards and refused replacement cards, and now is going to be limited to what cash she has on hand for the rest of her trip? If that information were to get into the wrong hands - like the hands of someone she's recently befriended - she could be in a jam she's not even aware of. Which is why I'd want to talk to her, regardless of the money situation.
posted by aryma at 6:50 PM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Get the police in London to do a welfare check on your mom at her airbnb.

I also thought someone has befriended your mom and is using her idiosyncrasies against both of you.
posted by jbenben at 9:00 PM on March 18, 2014

[Folks, OP has asked for alternatives for sending money, not overall advice. The skeptical position has been aired at this point. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:19 PM on March 18, 2014

Oh, an added layer of safety using Western Union here might be not telling her what the passphrase actually is, but alluding to something only she would know. Like "Oh, the passphrase is the name of your first boyfriend" or whatever.
posted by zug at 9:44 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

In case you're worried that she gives the wrong answer (Like saying Tommy Tan instead of Thomas Tan for the 'first boyfriend' clue), Western Union allows you to have the money returned and re-send it with a new answer, and notifies you when it's been correctly picked up or not. They're pricey, but really good for customer service.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:32 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

We had something similar happen with a relative equally as quirky in some not so unsimilar ways.

Use Western Union for the smallest amount of cash she needs (but add the transfer fee on top of that so if you send $120 she gets the full $100 or whatever). It's a great resource.

I have no doubt this is your mother in all her hair raising and delightful quirkiness. Do keep working on the phone thing.
posted by zizzle at 6:06 AM on March 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

An alternative I haven't seen mentioned is a sterling pre-paid card bought from a British company, like this one. It would probably have a lower overall cost than a card denominated in USD and should get to your mother faster, too. Obviously there are also security advantages over her carrying a large quantity of cash.

The only downside is that she'd have to stay in on the day of delivery until it arrived, unless perhaps it could be delivered to the AirBnB hosts?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 9:08 AM on March 19, 2014

Update: I arranged a WU transfer yesterday. To avoid the almost 10% surcharge associated with using a credit card to arrange the transfer and instead pay a small $5 surcharge, I went with a delayed transfer that used a direct debit from one of my bank accounts. I also arranged the transfer via the web interface. The reason I mention this is that it's important to a later bit of this update.

After I arranged the transfer, WU called me to verify the details, asking for partial numbers related to the transaction (e.g. last 4 digits of the account number, when their online obfuscation only reveals the last 3, etc.), so it seems like they're careful to tie up loose ends of authentication on the initiating side.

Reading this thread and other resources, I became curious about why the web interface didn't offer me the option of setting a codephrase on the transaction that could further authenticate the Mom, so I just called WU at their toll free number to ask. The answer is threefold:
1) Mom is required to show a government issued photo ID to pick up the transfer, which is thought to be better than a codephrase.
2) Sometimes with transfer amounts of USD$299 and smaller you can waive the ID requirement, which is when they suggest using a codephrase. But not for amounts higher.
3) If you use the web interface you don't get the option of a codephrase anyway.

I may update the thread when Mom gets back from the UK in early April to assuage all our tiny squeaky holdout fears that it isn't her asking for the money but at this point I'm pretty sure it's fine.
posted by kalessin at 9:17 AM on March 19, 2014

P.S. It's not that I neglect her or am afraid of her, but I am doing my best to be sure that my Mom does not feel actively supervised or managed, because those are problems for her, so the answers I mark as best are those that stick to supporting her and not overriding her explicitly stated boundaries. Sending PCs around wouldn't send the right message, nor would sending her to the Embassy when WU is possible and for us, poses little enough risk that the money's going to an unintended 3rd party.
posted by kalessin at 9:19 AM on March 19, 2014

Mom returned home intact, on schedule, with the funds in her pocket (turns out she didn't need them). Thanks for all your help. There was no scamming involved except perhaps unintentionally by Mom who didn't know how many red flags she was raising here on the homefront with her request and her unwillingness to accede to my demands.
posted by kalessin at 1:26 PM on April 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

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