Thousands of people were tricked into wiring money to thieves over the past few years. If you were one of them, time is running out to get your money back in your wallet.
Mariellen Hallcox was one of those people. She describes the phone call she received as terrifying.
"They said they had my daughter in a basement," Hallcox recalled.
On the other end, a man's voice said he had kidnapped her daughter, Lyndsay.
"'If you don't give me the money. I'm going to hurt her, I'm going to beat her and I'm going to kill her,'" Hallcox remembered the person saying.
Terrifying, indeed, but as it turned out, the call was part of an elaborate scheme.
The self-described "kidnappers" demanded money to be wired via Western Union for Lyndsay's safe return.
It's a hoax that landed Hallcox on the list of thousands who fell prey to the scams in which wiring services were central.
"He wanted a couple thousand dollars. I said I have $400 cash," Hallcox said.
She sent that money, like thousands of other victims, via Western Union.
The wiring service appeared so central to these scams that three years ago federal agencies launched an investigation to determine what Western Union knew, and when, amid allegations the company didn't do enough to protect consumers.
As part of a settlement agreement, the company admitted to failing to maintain an effective anti-laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud, agreeing to a $586 million settlement.
Some of that money is now earmarked to repay victims like Hallcox. But with the potential refunds comes another warning: scam artists may be contacting potential consumers offering to help them get a refund through the Western Union process if they pay a fee.
Consumers should not pay anyone to help them get a refund.
Who's eligible for restitution and how does it work?
Anyone who lost money to a scammer via Western Union between Jan. 1, 2004, and Jan. 19, 2017, can file a claim.
It must be submitted by Feb. 12, 2018.
Each claim must be verified by the U.S. Department of Justice. The amount victims get depends on how much they lost and how many victims submit valid claims.
Still shaken by the ordeal, Hallcox is both hoping to get her money back and to pay it forward by sharing her cautionary tale.
"If I can help anybody out there, maybe there will be less of them feeding off of us," she said.
At the time it agreed to the settlement, Western Union said it shared the government's goal of protecting consumers and worked hard to resolve these matters.
Consumers who have already filed a complaint with Western Union, the FTC or the Attorney General's Office, should have received a claim form in the mail by now.