One of the most interesting things about Western Union is how they position themselves. If you visit their official homepage you won’t see a screenshot of a transaction or a huge logo. Instead, there’s a picture of Earth and accompanying text that seems just as suitable for an upcoming Hollywood movie. Beneath this, there are no prices or introductory offers, but quotes about the brand’s vision. Trusted sources such as Bloomberg and the Financial Times are quoted, with one from the former reading, “WU champions the idea that the free flow of money and people across borders ultimately benefits everyone”.

Judging Western Union by the slickness of their website is hardly the best way to choose an online payment option. But it definitely says a lot about their company and their approach to the business as a whole, almost giving off the vibe that profit comes second to their greater mission. But how accurate is this portrayal?

What ID Do I Need to Provide?

Very casual users can make use of Western Union payments without verifying their identity. In total, new users can spend up to £800 over the course of a year without having any ID approved.

If you intend to spend and receive a bit more, you’ll need to have your ID approved by them first. It’s a relatively simple three-step process, and doesn’t include anything out of the ordinary. It’s along the lines of a traditional Know Your Customer (KYC) casino process, which involves some basic ID requirements.

First, you’ll need to send a copy or scan of your ID, both front and back. Only passports and driver’s licenses are accepted, which is a little stricter than some of the other payment method authentication processes.

Next, you’ll have to do the same thing but with your proof of address. This can be a utility bill, credit card bill or bank statement. As is the norm, it can’t be any older than three months and must be in your name.

Once you’ve done this, you can send the documents to Western Union in one of two ways. You can send them by post or by email and you’ll find their postal and email addresses on their website. That’s all you have to do. You should receive a confirmation email once it’s all approved, but if you don’t, you can log in and check your status at any time.

Once your account has been upgraded, you’ll be able to send up to £4,000 every three days.

Is Western Union Just for Scammers?

Although Western Union is a major type of payment recognised worldwide, it has also been marred by an association with scammers. This is because Western Union is focused primarily on facilitating the transfer of funds from one account to another. The company categorically confirms as much, stating, “Western Union does not offer an escrow service or any type of ‘purchase protection’ policy”.

This may make some customers feel a little uneasy. Compared to a payment method such as Mastercard, which is tied to a bank account and offers reimbursement in the event of fraud,

Western Union’s stance may seem to be a big disadvantage for users. They do offer an email address to message if fraud is suspected, however they simultaneously redirect customers to their local police.

This is not to say that Western Union is an unsafe payment method. You’ll need a password to get access to your account, and the company also uses industry standard SSL technology to help keep things secure. You can also activate Verified by Visa or Mastercard SecureCode for another layer of safety.

That said, the overall theme here is prevention over protection. Western Union will happily provide tips for staying safe and ways to spot a scam, but if users end up being the victims of fraud there’s very little they can – or will – do to help. Doing your own due diligence is always a smart move, whether you’re looking for safe places to shop or the safest online casinos.

How Can I Send Money via Western Union?

You can make payments online, at a bank, or at participating stores. It’s free to sign up and register with Western Union, too. When making international transfers, the exchange rate is usually calculated at the time of shipment. But for some countries, it will be calculated when the payment is first initiated.

There are two main ways to send money with Western Union. The first is to make a transfer, usually to a bank account – this may take a few days. The other is what they call ‘Money in Minutes’. As the title suggests, this allows people to send money to another country in just a few minutes. The recipient can then collect it from a bank or participating agent provided they bring a valid form of identification with them.

Are There Any Fees?

The sender will have to pay a fee when transferring funds. The amount that will need to be paid varies quite significantly from one location to another. The fee also varies greatly depending on how much money is being sent.

For example, sending £50 to the UK will incur a fee of €11.90, whilst sending £500 will cost €31.90. However, sending the same amounts to Afghanistan would cost €3.50 and €5.50 respectively. This is a fairly substantial difference for the same transactions. This explains why Western Union has become the go-to payment method for many countries – whilst being far less common in others.

Mobile Payments

Another appealing feature of Western Union, particularly if you’re a fan of mobile gaming, is the ability to receive money via mobile. The service is currently only offered in a handful of countries including Guatemala, El Salvador, Nepal, Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Money sent via mobile will be sent to a mobile wallet. This is an electronic ‘wallet’ which is linked to a particular phone number.

For this to work, the receiver will have to have a mobile phone provider that offers the service. The sender, on the other hand, doesn’t even need to have a mobile phone at all. But they will have to have a valid ID to send funds. When the funds arrive, the recipient will receive a text updating them.

One snag is that if the sender accidentally puts down an incorrect phone number, there’s no way of retrieving the funds. This is in-keeping with Western Union’s view on fraud in general. If the user makes a mistake, there’s often little that can be done about it.

Alternatives to Western Union

Western Union is certainly a smart option for many users. But perhaps you’ve heard horror stories about scams that have put you off. Or maybe the fees are too heavy in the region you want to send money.

Whatever the reason may be, there are plenty of alternatives to Western Union. Players can make deposits and transactions using MoneyGram, CurrencyFair, OFX and Xoom.

Yes, Western Union does have some links to scams. However, the vast majority of its users are legitimate, and the same can be said for most of their agents. One prime area which Western Union is used for is the online casino industry with players wanting to cash out at the fastest paying sites.