Gary Brown: Con artists know how to butter up us ‘valued customers’

Gary Brown

I don’t know. Do you think it’s a scam if somebody sends an e-mail claiming that Western Union in the United Kingdom wants to give me $90,000 in celebration of its anniversary, and all it asks in the e-mail’s subject line is that I “CONTACT US BACK”?

It isn’t even a special anniversary, such as 100th or 150th. The e-mail claims that it’s Western Union UK’s “156th Anniversary,” which makes it a little difficult to understand how Western Union could have been founded in 1851. And, according to its website, Western Union didn’t even provide service to Europe until 1896. Something’s not adding up or subtracting correctly.

But I’m not teaching a grade school math lesson here.

E-mail continues

“At Western Union, there’s so much more than the money you're sending. Every sender and receiver is important to us,” said the e-mail, really boosting my spirits in butter-me-up sort of way. Everybody likes to feel important to others. Most of us would rather it not be a con, but the words are nice to hear.

“To celebrate our 156th Anniversary United Kingdom, we're rewarding you with a prize sum of SD$90,000.00.”

Why me?

“Because you sent money online from an agent location or received money through Western Union, you've been selected.”

OK, when I read that I started to worry. I don’t remember sending or getting any money through Western Union lately. Actually, I’ve never sent any or gotten any cash through the company that I know if. Now I wonder. Could I have sleep-sent? Did you get a wire transfer from me?

Whatever, I could make up the money with one quick Western Union anniversary award.

All I needed to get it, the e-mail said, was to send them my name, telephone numbers (home, office and mobile), address (city, state and country), date of birth and occupation (including my company’s name).

If they didn’t know anything about me, how did they ever find out my e-mail address?

I can sort of understand now why they had started out the e-mail just calling me “Dear Valued Customer.”

Getting suspicious

I checked online scam alert sites and, sure enough, the Western Union 156th Anniversary e-mail was the June 17 entry at

Their version began with “Dear Sir/Madam,” which I thought was even less personal than my “Valued Customer.” But this letter was going to award some sir or madam $1,000,000.

“Congratulations!” the e-mail said.

Why would this sir or madam get scammed with a $1 million prize and I only get scammed with a measly $90,000 anniversary award. I know we were both running the risk of losing our life savings, but it just sounded as though the scammers liked this victim better.

What a letdown.

I don’t mind losing the 90 grand, but to lose the love of an anonymous con artist really disappoints me.

Contact Gary Brown at