What to Do if You Get Scammed

what to do if you get scammed

If you’ve fallen victim to a scam it’s essential to take swift action.

A scam could take many forms. It could be a fraudulent transfer of money from a bank account, a phishing email from a Nigerian prince asking you to send money in a wire transfer, or a text from someone pretending to be a family member in need of money. Or perhaps you’ve been the victim of a deceptive business deal, or find your identity has been stolen.

What to Do If You Get Scammed Out of Money

Here are the steps to take if you get scammed.

1. Report the Scam

Report the scam to law enforcement — even if you feel embarrassed.

Reporting the scam can prevent further losses of money. Sometimes a scammer who gets access to your bank account, credit card, or other information will continue with the unauthorized transfer of funds until caught.

Reporting can help prevent other unsuspecting victims from getting bilked. When you report the scam it helps law enforcement break up fraud rings.

2. Contact Your Financial Institution or Credit Card Company

Report any bank transfer, debit card withdrawal, or credit card transaction you didn’t authorize, or any other suspicious transaction. All financial institutions and card companies have fraud alert hotlines or online ways to report fraudulent transactions. Contact them via their website or call by phone.

The company will assist you with steps to take, including possibly closing accounts to prevent further lost money. Ask for your money back.

Report as soon as possible. Reporting immediately is legally necessary to dispute unauthorized transactions and try to recover lost money from your bank or credit card company.

3. Check Each Bank Account and Other Accounts

Even if you think a scam is limited to one card, or a single account at one financial institution, check them all. Don’t forget to check your debit card, PayPal, Venmo and any other money transfer app where money can be paid. Report suspicious activity. Close any account necessary.

A creative scammer who gets access to a single bank account or card, or to your email account or pin number, can cause you to lose more money by gaining access elsewhere. Lost money from fraudulent wire transfers, debit card transactions, online shopping scams, and any unauthorized transfer of funds or fraudulent charge mounts up fast.

4. Check Your Credit Report

You may not even realize the scope of the problem until you check your credit report and see fraudulent transactions.

Be proactive. Contact each creditor company to report fraud. Also dispute the item(s) with the credit bureaus.

A scammer can keep causing trouble beyond the initial scam, including grave harm to your credit rating. If your personal information has been stolen, it might be sold on the Dark Web, leading to more money frauds.

5. File a Fraud Report with Credit Agencies

File fraud alerts with the major credit bureaus. These will become part of your credit report. When a fraud alert shows up, it acts as a “red flag” which should cause creditors to take extra steps before extending new credit.

Contact one of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax — to place a fraud alert. Once you file a fraud report with one, they will notify the other two.

Place a credit freeze if your identity has been stolen. A credit freeze means your credit report can’t be used by any company for purposes of future decisions. For example, an identity thief could not take out a new loan transaction in your name. You must contact each bureau separately to apply for a credit freeze.

6. Change Passwords

If the scam involves access to your email, online information, mobile apps or devices, then you should immediately change passwords and/or pin numbers for compromised accounts. Pick a strong password that’s not easy for a scammer to guess. Don’t use the same password everywhere.

7. Warn Others

Inform friends and family to be vigilant so they don’t get scammed. Also, contact employees and business associates of your company if the fraud relates to business.

Some of the latest schemes involve a fraudster pretending to be you, contacting a friend or business colleague in a text message or social media account. The fraudster requests money to be paid via Western Union or gift cards or some other money transaction.

report scams

Where to Report Scams

Here’s a list of law enforcement, consumer affairs agencies, and other places to contact:

  • Account Providers
  • Federal Trade Commission – Go to Report Fraud.
  • USA.gov This site has a helpful decision tree walking you through where to report scams. For example, if the scheme involves your social security number, USA.gov may direct you to the Social Security Administration to report the scam. If the scheme involves scammers filing fraudulent income tax returns, the site will refer you to the IRS to report the scam.
  • FBI – Report cyber crime to the FBI’s Internet Crimes Complaint Center.
  • Better Business Bureau (BBB) – If a company, such as a shady building contractor, has bilked you out of money, report it to the Better Business Bureau via its Scam Tracker.
  • Local law enforcement – Your local police department is the best equipped to investigate and apprehend a local scammer.
  • Your Work IT Department – Contact your IT Department if you believe any device used for work may be compromised by a scammer.
  • Local media – News reports can help law enforcement. Also, often the elderly are scam victims and the only way they may learn about scams is through television news. For instance, scams against the elderly may involve phone calls requesting a wire transfer or to pay Western Union money. The payment is “urgently needed” to help a relative who is stranded while traveling, etc.

What to Do If You Have Experienced Identity Theft

If your identity has been stolen, make an identity theft report at Identitytheft.gov, a site run by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This website will direct you about steps to take. The best part: it generates a comprehensive, personal recovery plan with printable checklists.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 23.9 million Americans have been victims of identity theft totaling $16.4 billion.

Typically this type of scam involves an imposter taking out loans or new cards in your name. Then you are expected to pay the bills!

Other variations may involve using your identity to steal IRS tax refunds or obtain government benefits. Armed with your social security number, a scammer may use it to apply for a new account under your name.

What to Do When a Scammer Accesses Your Computer or Phone

It’s all too common for a scammer to send a phishing email with a link taking you to a page collecting financial information. Some phishing emails look very official. For example, the Postal Inspection Service warns about fake emails asking for additional postage to claim a package.

phone scams

Malware may get downloaded through these suspicious links, giving a scammer remote access to your computer. Once they get remote access, everything on your device will be open to them.

Here’s what to do. Immediately disconnect from the internet. Turn off the device. Use a different device to update online passwords to protect from scammers. Don’t use the same password. Ever again.

Run a full scan on the affected computer with your antivirus software.

If your phone has been compromised, lost or stolen, change all passwords for every account or app you’ve accessed by phone. A scammer who accesses your phone may get your credit card information and financial information.

Protecting Yourself From a Scam in the Future

Here are steps to guard against getting scammed in the future:

  • Be Skeptical: Avoid clicking on links or downloading attachments in unsolicited emails. Slow down before you provide bank details or pay! Scammers often create a false sense of urgency to pressure you into payment.
  • Use Strong Passwords: Create unique and robust passwords for all your online accounts. Consider using a password manager to keep track of them securely.
  • Enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Whenever possible, enable 2FA for your accounts. This adds an extra layer of security by requiring a verification code or fingerprint in addition to your password.
  • Monitor Your Accounts: Keep a close eye on bank statements and credit card statements for suspicious activity.
  • Monitor Your Credit Report: Your credit report is an early warning system. The three major credit bureaus all offer free alerts if your credit report or rating changes.
  • Avoid Sharing Personal Information: Be cautious about sharing personal information on social media. Scammers use it to tailor attacks and target people.
  • Verify Before Trusting: If someone contacts you claiming to be from a legitimate organization, verify their identity independently before acting. Look up their contact information on the official website. Call directly to confirm.
  • Secure Your Devices: Install antivirus software. Or if you use a Windows or MacOS machine, enable and update the built-in antivirus protection. Regularly scan for threats.
  • Use Secure Wi-Fi: When accessing sensitive information online, use secure Wi-Fi networks only. Or consider using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your internet connection.
  • Get Identity Theft Protection: This is protection provided by a private company. Examples include LifeLock, Identity Guard and Aura. Some advertise up to $1 million coverage paid so you get your money back.
  • Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated on new warnings issued by authorities. Government agencies and consumer affairs organizations often release alerts about emerging threats.

Frequently Asked Questions About Scams

Will I get my lost money back from a scam?

In many cases, you won’t get your money back if you get scammed. However, the faster you take action, the better your chances to mitigate losses and possibly get paid some funds.

If you have an Identity Theft Protection service provider, it’s like having insurance. If you have such a service provider, then you may get your money back or some of it.

What should I do if I receive unsolicited calls or messages asking for sensitive information?

Exercise caution. Slow down. Verify the identity of the caller or sender independently before sharing sensitive information.

How can I ensure the security of my online accounts?

To ensure security online, create strong and unique account passwords. Consider using a password manager app to securely keep track of passwords.

Should I enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) for my accounts?

Yes, enabling Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of security against unauthorized access to your accounts.

What can I do to stay safe on social media?

To safeguard yourself on social media accounts, avoid sharing personal information publicly. Scammers commonly use it to tailor attacks.

How can I secure my devices from malware and cyber threats?

To secure your devices from cyber threats, install antivirus software, and regularly scan for threats. Avoid clicking on links and attachments in unsolicited messages.

Should I use Wi-Fi networks for sensitive online activities?

Do not use open or public Wi-Fi networks for sensitive tasks. Use only a secure Wi-Fi network requiring a password, such as at your work or home. Or use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which encrypts your internet connection to enhance online security.

Where can I find information on new scams and warnings?

You can find reliable information on new scams and fraud warnings from several sources, including:

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC’s website provides comprehensive information about different types of scams, including identity theft.
  • Experian: Experian, a major credit reporting company, offers insights into the latest scams and scammers, particularly those involving credit and identity theft.

scam alerts

  • USA.gov: This official U.S. government website offers resources on where to report scams, and details on various types of imposter scams.
  • Local media reports.

To protect yourself from scammers, stay informed, be vigilant, and safeguard your personal information to reduce the risk of falling victim to fraud.

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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a staff writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 4 years. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She is also a freelance writer and previously worked as a newspaper circulation district manager and radio station commercial writer. In 2019, Lisa received the (Pennsylvania) Keystone Award.