If you’ve fallen prey to a devious money scam, you’re not alone. In 2020 alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received millions of scam reports, which amounted to more than $3 billion dollars in losses for those involved.
When you lose money to a scammer, it’s common to feel a little lost yourself. Fortunately, there are several organizations available, from local authorities to the federal government, to assist victims of these scams and even help them reclaim their money.
Read on for four steps to take if you’ve fallen for a money scam and some additional tips to protect yourself from future scammers as well.
What to do if you’ve fallen for a money scam
Scammers are clever thieves, and they’re good at getting what they want. If you’ve fallen for a scammer’s tricks (see the list of common scams below), here are four steps you can take to report the issue, (hopefully) recover your cash, and even prevent the scammer from striking again.
1. Compile data and details about the scam
Before you reach out to your bank or the local authorities for help, make sure you have your story straight.
Gather any relevant documentation, such as email correspondence, the name and contact information of your perpetrator (if available), phone recordings (if applicable and available), and more. This information will not only help regulators identify and (hopefully) stop the scammer, but it can also help keep other would-be victims safe.
2. Contact your bank or the company you used to send money
As stated previously, scams are not uncommon in America. Consequently, many banks, payment transfer services, online sellers, and other relevant organizations have dedicated fraud departments to address the problem of phony charges. In some cases, these financial institutions can reverse the fraudulent transactions and return your money right then and there.
Depending on how the scammer acquired your cash, here is what the FTC recommends you do next:
If you paid with a credit or debit card... Contact the company/bank that issued the card to report a fraudulent charge and request that they reverse the transaction.
If the scammer transferred money from your bank account... Contact your bank to report an unauthorized debit/withdrawal and request that they reverse the transaction.
If you paid with a gift card... Contact the company that issued the gift card to report the scam and request a refund.
If you paid through a wire transfer... Contact your bank or the wire transfer company to report a fraudulent charge and request that they reverse the transaction.
If you paid through a money transfer app... Contact the company that owns the app to report a fraudulent transaction and request that they reverse the payment. If the app is linked to your credit or debit card, report the charge to the company or bank that issued the card.
If you paid with cryptocurrency... Contact the company you used to send money to report a fraudulent transaction and request that they reverse the payment.
If you sent cash via U.S. mail... Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (877-876-2455) to request that they intercept your package.
If the scammer has access to your financial information, such as a credit card or bank account, you should also freeze your credit report and place a fraud alert on your account in order to prevent the scammer from doing more damage. Or, consider closing the card/account altogether.
3. Report the scam
Perhaps the most important step for any individual to take following a money scam is to report it.
By notifying organizations like the FTC (the main agency that collects money scam reports) of the scam, you empower regulators to fight back against scammers. Agencies, like the FTC, compile scammer trends and habits and use the information to educate communities and prevent future crimes. In some cases, they are even able to gather enough incriminating data to take legal action.
Here are a few places that I recommend reporting your money scam to:
- Federal Trade Commission: report the scam through their website or call 1-877-382-4357 (9:00 AM – 8:00 PM, ET).
- FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center: if you’re a victim of internet crime, report the scam here.
- SSA’s Inspector General: if a scammer has your social security information, report the scam through their website or call 1-800-269-0271 (10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, ET).
- Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA): to report an IRS imposter, call 1-800-366-4484.
- National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF): if you’ve lost money through a form of disaster fraud, such as coronavirus-related scams, call the NCDF Hotline at 1-866-720-5721 or submit a complaint through their website.
For additional advice and even emotional support, contact AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. Their hotline (877-908-3360) can help victims of money scams determine the next best step.
4. Notify local authorities
Along with reporting scams to the FTC and other relevant regulators, you should also contact your local authorities.
Start by reporting the scam to your state consumer protection office. For stolen cash or possessions, you should contact your local law enforcement officials as well to file a police report. This does not only initiate an investigation, but it may help protect fellow community members from the same scam.
Finally, notify neighbors and local businesses of scammers in your area by reporting the incident to the Better Business Bureau. Their Scam Tracker can warn others and help prevent the scammer from causing more harm.
What are some of the most common scams?
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the phone is still a scammer’s primary weapon, and the most common type of scam is imposter scams. In fact, imposter scams amounted to nearly one-quarter of the 2.2 million scams reported to the FTC in 2020, with crafty con artists masquerading as anything from a government agency to a family friend.
Some of the most common scams — by phone, email, internet, and more — include:
- Tech support scams.
- Fake check scams.
- Charity scams.
- Disaster fraud (including coronavirus scams).
- Internet scams (fake websites, emails, etc.).
- Fake college loans and scholarships.
- Fake prizes and sweepstakes offers.
- Social Security Administration (SSA) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scams.
Tips to guard yourself against future scams
One crucial preventative measure you can take to protect yourself from money scams is to educate yourself on how scammers work.
Since scammers employ several routine tactics, such as offering financial aid that seems too good to be true or establishing a sense of urgency that encourages you to “act now,” there are plenty of red flags to watch for.
Here are some common scammer strategies that you should be aware of:
- Saying you’ve been “selected” or “chosen” to receive a special prize or offer.
- Guaranteeing you’ll receive money, benefits, etc.
- Establishing urgency (“act now,” “this is a one-time offer,” etc.).
- Offering “free” services, aid, etc.
- Requesting payment in an uncommon way, such as through gift cards or wire transfer.
- Using threats or demands to incite action (common for SSA and IRS scams).
- Claiming to be a government entity or large organization, such as the IRS or Apple (this is common for phone calls).
Falling for a money scam can be a jarring experience. Unfortunately, it’s also a common occurrence in America.
Every year, scammers steal billions of dollars from unsuspecting Americans. To assist these victims and prevent scammers from doing more harm, organizations like the Federal Trade Commission are collecting data to disarm the thieves and warn the public. Many banks and financial institutions even have dedicated fraud departments to address fraudulent charges.
If you’ve been a victim of a money scam, fight back! Report the scam and help dismantle this destructive industry to protect your neighbors from the same fate.