Epic Fail

So I’ve been trying to wire money to Kenya. No, I haven’t been contacted by the wife of a former dictator who needs my urgent assistance in moving large sums of money. Just doing someone a favor.

I go to the website. I’ve used it before, so I figure I’ll log in to my account. Try to log in with my usual credentials. Uh oh.

W0500 Sorry you're having trouble. Please try again later.

This does not bode well. I’m having trouble? News to me. And if the trouble is on my end, what good will trying again later do? Are they suggesting that I am having brain issues which will resolve themselves in a few hours?

OK, assume this is just their eccentric way of saying “login failed”. I have a dim recollection of not being able to use one of my regular passwords because they don’t allow special characters in their passwords (why is it always institutions which handle large sums of money that have poor password policies?) Email customer service, and meanwhile, click the “retrieve password” link. Notice while emailing customer service the lengthy backlog of previous Western Union customer service mail from the last time I tried to wire money through them. Oh dear, I must have blocked those memories.

OK, well, chin up and keep trying. While waiting for customer service, hit the “forgot password” link. Go through the first step, email address, date of birth… that’s odd. This is probably the first site I’ve ever seen where the “Date of Birth” field is a password-style field. Presumably so no potential identity thieves peering over my shoulder witness that top-secret information, and I have to go through all the hassle of changing my birth date to something new.

Anyway, moving on, ah, the Security Question.  OK, what’s it going to be – good ole’ mother’s maiden name?  First pet?  Model of car in which I first got to third base? Nope, not good enough for Western Union security.  They’ve gone the extra mile and required me to guess the question before supplying the answer. Now that’s secure!

Email customer service again. Looks like there’s a response to my first query already.  They are prompt, I’ll give them that.  Let’s see…

We apologize for the inconvenience, due to security reasons the system blocks the access after 2 or more unsuccesfull attempts.

Reply to customer service informing them that that’s nice, but this happened the very first time I’d logged in in months.

Oh look, a reply to my second problem.  They sure are on the ball over there.

We apologize for any problems you experienced with our site. However, if you are not being able to sign in with your current e-mail address and password, we may offer to deactivate your account so you may register again. Please keep in mind that no one at Western Union knows or can retrieve your password for you. If you wish to have your account deactivated, please send your request in an email to messaging@westernunion.com from the email address you used when you registered, and include your registered name, address and telephone number. Please note that if you have another e-mail address, you may use it to create a new account.

Ah, form letters detailing how to work around the flaws in the system.  Always a promising sign.

OK, let’s try setting up a new account under a different email address.  Let’s see, click “Sign UP”, enter name, rank, and serial number.  Like nearly every user interaction page in this system, the page has a CAPTCHA at the bottom.  Except this CAPTCHA has a difference: there’s no CAPTCHA, just the alt text.

Click little “reload” icon, no good.  Click the “audible captcha” icon – leads to a blank page.  I think they’ve hit upon an unbeatable anti-spam strategy here – a CAPTCHA you have to interpret via mental telepathy.

Deep breath.  Let’s take a time out and check our email, shall we?

Unfortunately, your e-mail has arrived blank.  Please resubmit your question or comment and we will be happy to assist you. Also, please keep in mind that we are unable to view attachments, enclosures, or hyperlinks.

Looks like they left something out of that list of things they are unable to view – replies to their own useless boilerplate messages.  It appears that Western Union has adopted the time-tested “hear no evil, see no evil”  approach to technical support.  If the techs can’t view the problem, it doesn’t exist!

While we’re checking email, let’s email them about their amazing vanishing CAPTCHA.  Prompt reply, as usual.

Usually when this happens, it is because of problems with the server. You may wish to double-check your Internet settings, or try again later. Please note that our site works best with Internet Explorer version 6.0. We are currently not compatible with Mozilla, Firefox nor Safari.

Western Union, after doing a costly internal audit to discover where their inefficiencies lay, discovered that 99% of their problems with online transactions stemmed from those annoying customers.  Excluding 20-30% of the web browsing population by limiting the web site to IE6 compatibility neatly alleviated the problem, and the assistant vice-president who thought of the idea was immediately promoted.  He is now working on a grand enterprise-wide plan to enhance the customer experience by requiring all requests to be submitted on Sumerian cuneiform tablets.

So let’s review.  I can’t log in.  I can’t reset my password. And I can’t register a new account.  Well, we gave it our best shot. Time to fall back on ye olde reliable wireless telephone.

Call Western Union… you can probably guess by now where this is going.  I’ll spare you the play-by-play and sum up.  I called, I punched in my information. I was put on hold for 15 minutes while screechy distorted musaak drilled slowly into my ear canal.  Then they disconnected me.  I called back and discovered that while I was on hold they had helpfully cancelled my transaction.  I spoke to a manager, re-started the transaction.  Gave them all my information over again, then sat on hold for another ten minutes or so.  Finally, after a total of 50 minutes on the phone, they informed me that my transaction had been rejected by the ineffable machines which sometimes grant, and sometimes deny, and no one can say why… for security reasons.


Does anyone know of a method for transferring funds overseas that doesn’t leave one with an urge to bash one’s forhead repeatedly into a concrete post?

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  1. Sorry…

    .. no suggestions for solutions to your endeavor.. but I do think that this has earned Western Union the status of “first ones up against the wall when the revolution comes….”

    Where are the competitors?

  2. Wow, this little exercise surpasses any of my failures with clueless companies.

    I suspect that WU is big enough that they can afford to drive away the ‘little’ volume that comes from non-IE browsers.

    I suspect that deep within WU there are people who care, people who say that WU should design web sites for multiple browsers. (And these people probably have ideas for other parts of the business as well.) These folks are considered ‘rebels’ and ‘troublemakers’ by the other WU team, including senior managers.

    Some other company is going to come along, probably from another country, and provide wire-transfer services to people in the US. And eat WU’s lunch.

    And WU will sit down on the sidewalk next to GM and reminisce about ‘the good ole days’.

  3. Paypal!

    Receiver has a bank account, right?

    1. PayPal is great if you’re sending to someone as wired as the rest of us Westerners. Unfortunately all I had was a name and a (physical!) address.

  4. Paypal? I believe that works overseas.

    1. See my reply above… PayPal is great when your recipient is wired and needs electronic money. Yes, I believe they will cut and send a paper check if necessary, but at that point it’s no more efficient than sending the check myself. WU is the only organization I know of that is likely to be able to put instant cash in the hands of someone who may or may not have a phone number or an email address.

  5. Write a check, put it in an envelope.

    Alternatively, use paypal.

    1. Unfortunately not an option when it needs a) to get to Kenya in a couple of days or less, b) I don’t have an email address or phone number for the recipient; and c) the recipient may or may not even have those things, or have the means to easily convert digital funds into cash in his hand. WU is the only option I’ve found that covers this situation.

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