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What to Do If You Fell for a Scam: A Comprehensive Guide

If you get caught in a scam, don't panic - follow these steps for what to do if you fell for a scam.

So you fell for a scam. It can happen to anybody. No matter how smart, capable, aware, or educated you are, everyone has things they’re vulnerable to and times then they’re more vulnerable. Many people want to sweep the experience under the rug and move on with their lives. But when you realize you’ve been scammed, that’s the time to take action. You can protect yourself, potentially get some of your money back, and help bring the scammers to justice. This article will tell you what to do if you fell for a scam. Take the steps you need depending on the type of scam and what specifically happened.

If you’re still in contact with the scammer

You’re currently on the phone with them.

If you’re currently on the phone with a scammer, hang up right away! Don’t worry about saying goodbye or even waiting for them to finish your sentence. In this situation, it’s okay to be rude. You have no obligation to be polite to someone who has stolen from you or is trying to steal from you!

After you hang up, they may try to call back. Don’t answer it. Instead, block the phone number. They may also try calling from different numbers. Let all calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize go to voicemail. If they don’t leave a voicemail, or if it’s the scammer, don’t call them back!

You have an ongoing conversation through email or text.

Resolve that you will not respond to the scammer again – not even to tell them you know they’re a scammer. More contact just means more opportunities for them to manipulate you. And scammers are expert manipulators.

Block their email address or their phone number. Take screenshots of the texts or emails and save them in a safe place – you’ll need them for future steps. The scammer may try to contact you with a new email address or phone number. As soon as you realize who they are, repeat these steps. Decide not to respond, screenshot, and block.

You have an ongoing conversation through an app or website.

Resolve not to respond again, not even to say you know they’re a scammer. Scammers are expert manipulators, and the more you contact them, the more chance they have to manipulate you.

See if there is a way to report them to the app or website. Many will let you report a user or profile as malicious or a scam. Take screenshots of the messages and store them in a safe place. Then block them. They may try to contact you through another profile, but don’t respond – just block.

If you sent money to the scammer

If you fell for a scam and sent money, act right away. The longer the delay between sending money and taking these steps, the less likely it’s possible to reverse the transaction. It’s important to know that you may not get your money back at all. But these steps also let you report fraud, and that can help stop the scammer from continuing their con.

You used a credit or debit card.

Call whoever issued the card. There’s usually a contact phone number on the back. Ask for the fraud department. Tell them when you made the payment and that it was a fraudulent charge to an illegal scam. Then ask if they will reverse the charge.

Regardless of whether or not they reverse the charge, ask them to disable the current card and give you a new one with a new number. Then review your statement carefully for any charges you didn’t make. Report those to the fraud department as well.

You sent it through your bank account.

Contact your bank immediately. Ask them for help in flagging the transaction and returning the money. They may direct you to the fraud department, at which point you can also report it as fraud.

You read them a gift card number.

Contact the gift card issuer. There’s usually a phone number on the back of the card. Ask for their fraud department. If they don’ t have a fraud department, it’s okay to talk to the customer service representative. Explain you’ve been the victim of a scam, and ask if they can refund your losses. Regardless of what they say, hold onto the gift card and the receipt from when you bought it.

You sent a wire transfer.

If you sent it through a service like Western Union or Moneygram, contact the company. If you sent it through your bank, call your bank. Report that it was fraudulent and for a scam, and ask if they will reverse the transfer and return your money.

You used a payment app like Venmo or CashApp.

Report the payment through the app as fraudulent. Contact customer service and see if they can reverse the payment. If you have a credit card or debit card linked to your account, assume that the scammer got access to that as well. Follow the steps for if you paid with a credit or debit card above.

If the scammer got ANY of your personal information

Even small, seemingly-harmless pieces of information can have big consequences. Often your name, birthday, and address are enough for a scammer to commit identity theft. They may not even have to get you to actually fall for the scam to get that information. If they got your phone number, mother’s maiden name, your driver’s license or passport information, your social security number, or anything else, they could do even more damage.

They got some of your personal information.

To start, contact each of the three major credit bureaus. Request a credit freeze and turn on free fraud alerts. Sign up for a credit monitoring service. Then get a copy of your credit report. Check it for errors and dispute any that you find. And continue to check it regularly to watch for new things popping up that aren’t yours.

They got your child’s personal information.

Identity thieves target children, too! If a scammer got any of your child’s personal information when you fell for their scam, get a copy of their credit report. They shouldn’t have anything on it. If you see anything on their report, it’s probably fraudulent. Dispute it with the credit bureau. Also contact each of the three major credit bureaus and request a credit freeze. Your child shouldn’t need credit until they’re an adult anyway, and that prevents the scammer from opening new accounts in their name.

They got your social security number.

If you haven’t already frozen your credit with all three major bureaus, do that now. Also turn on fraud alerts for your credit, get a copy of your credit report, and check for anything on the report that isn’t yours.

Next, use the Social Security Administration’s myE-Verify tool to “lock” your social security number. This will prevent a scammer from using it to apply for jobs. Create a my Social Security account or call the SSA and request a benefit verification letter. Check that letter to see if it lists any benefits you’re not getting.

They got your medical data or health insurance information.

If the scammer got any of your medical or health insurance information, beware of medical identity theft. It’s less common than other types of identity theft, but it can be devastating and potentially deadly. Read through all your Explanation of Benefits statements from your health insurance and every bill from medical professionals and confirm they’re all for services you actually received. You can ask for itemized bills if you need to. If you find any inaccuracies, contact your insurance or the provider and report them.

Also get a copy of your medical records and look for errors. If you find anything inaccurate, contact your provider and have it corrected. Finally, check your credit report for any medical bills that may have gone to collections.

If you find signs of identity theft.

After you fell for a scam, you may realize that your identity has been stolen. Someone is out there opening new credit cards in your name, using your social security number for unemployment, or pretending to be you and billing your insurance for their medical care. Whatever you find, it’s time to think about identity theft recovery.

First, assume the identity thief compromised everything. Make sure you can access all your accounts. Change your passwords to something long, random, and unique. Turn on two-factor authentication. Change your username if you can. Change all your security questions. Do this as soon as you see a sign of identity theft.

Next, file an identity theft affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. This gives you an official legal document saying someone stole your identity, and it can help with disputing. Because you will need to dispute everything that’s inaccurate or fraudulent. While you’re at it, lock your cards and freeze your credit.

If your social security number has been used fraudulently, such as for employment, applying for social security benefits, or applying for new loans, you can also report it to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General at oig.ssa.gov/report. If it was used for tax fraud or to get unemployment, follow the IRS’s identity theft instructions.

You can also consider professional help. There are identity theft recovery companies out there who specialize in helping people deal with this situation. If you can afford it, using a reputable one could help make this process easier.

If you find fraud or identity theft, follow these steps for what to do if you fell for a scam to protect yourself.

As soon as you realize that the link you clicked, the file you downloaded, or the software you installed is malicious, disconnect your device from the internet. If you realize and act quick enough, it could interrupt a malware download. But even if it doesn’t, disconnecting from the internet can keep a virus or malware from spreading to other devices or sending your data to criminals while you try to deal with it.

If you downloaded a file or installed a software program, delete the file or uninstall the software. Hopefully you’re backing up your device regularly; if not, make a backup now. Then run a virus/malware scan through an antivirus software. If you don’t already have a good antivirus installed, choose a trusted one. If the scan comes up with any potentially malicious files, delete them and follow the recommendations.

Finally, assume that all of your logins are compromised. Follow the steps for “If you told them your password” below. And if you want to be extra sure there’s no malicious code or hacker backdoors left on your device, you can take it to a repair or service shop for a professional cleaning.

If you told them your password

If you told anyone your password, whether they were a police officer or a bank representative, or even if they really were who they said they were, it’s time to take action to keep your accounts secure. To start, change your password immediately. If you can’t log in, a criminal probably already got in and changed the password. Follow the service’s account recovery process.

Make your new password long, strong, and random. Review all the information on the account, including your account recovery information, to make sure nobody changed anything. Turn on two-factor authentication if you can. Look in the security settings for an option to log out all other sessions or for a list of authorized devices. If you find either of those options, log out all other sessions and de-authorize all other devices. A criminal is logged in on another device will have to log back in, and since you changed the password, they won’t be able to get back in.

If you are a password re-user or use similar passwords on other sites, change your password on those sites as well. Make sure all of those passwords are long, strong, random, and not used on any other website or account. If that feels like a lot to remember, try using a password manager to keep them safe. (Most password managers can also generate long, strong, completely random passwords for you.) And turn on two-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication on every account that has the option.

What to do if you fell for any kind of scam

Many types of scams, fraud, and other digital trickery require different steps depending on what happened and what kind of scam it was. But if you’re wondering what to do if you fell for a scam, these are things you should do in all cases.

Report, report, report!

Reporting scams is essential for many reasons. It can serve as proof that you’ve been a victim, which can help you in the recovery process. It also helps law enforcement see how much of a problem scams are so they can allocate more resources to fighting them. Reports also help them track, find, and prosecute scammers for their crimes. And if law enforcement does a raid and recovers some money, having a record of your loss may mean you can get some of your losses back.

Reporting is helpful even if you don’t have many details. But the more evidence you can provide, the better. That’s why we suggested taking screenshots or saving copies of messages the scammer sent to you. Those messages can be extremely helpful for police in tracking scammer activity. So can any names (real or otherwise), email addresses, social media accounts, or phone numbers they used, what stories they told you, or the URLs of any websites they asked you to go to. It’s also important to hold onto this evidence. Law enforcement may investigate for several years before they need your evidence to prosecute.

There are multiple places you can report a scam. You can report it to some or all of them. One is filing a police report. In the US, you can report scams to the FTC at reportfraud.ftc.gov, to the BBB’s Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker, and to the FBI at ic3.gov. In the UK, you can report to Action Fraud at actionfraud.police.uk. EU citizens can find a list of reporting agencies by country on this Europol page. If the scammer pretended to be with a specific company, you can report it to that company. Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and the Social Security Administration all accept reports that a scammer was impersonating them.

Get support for the emotional toll.

So far, most of these tips for what to do if you fell for a scam have focused on the practical – securing your accounts, protecting your funds, and safeguarding your identity. But being scammed takes an emotional toll, too.

Almost everyone who gets scammed feels some degree of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and self-blame. You may feel stupid for falling for it, like you should have seen it was a scam and it’s your own fault. There also could be anger at the scammer for taking advantage of you, and anger at yourself for being taken in by it. You might be afraid of the impact the financial or data loss could have. And if the scam was something with a lot of emotional involvement, like a romance scam, there’s also the grief, loss, and heartbreak when you learn the person you are in love with isn’t who they said they were and are actually stealing from you.

That’s a lot of emotions to deal with! It’s important to have compassion for yourself. You just went through something hard and scary – it’s completely normal to be upset. Don’t assume you should just bounce back or brush it off as not a big deal. You were the victim of a crime, and it’s normal and expected to experience some challenging emotions afterwards.

It can help to talk to supportive friends or loved ones. Choose people who will listen and empathize with your feelings, not add to the shame and blame. Scam survivor support groups let you share your experiences with people who have gone through the same thing. You could also consider seeing a therapist or a mental health professional to work through the feelings.

Be cautious going forward.

Some scams and techniques have consequences you may not see right away. For example, if your identity was stolen, you may not know for sure until a few months afterwards, when fraudulent accounts start showing up on your credit report. If the scammer got any of your information, keep checking the things suggested in that section to spot any delayed problems.

Also be on the watch for additional scams. Scammers don’t just make money off of you by scamming you. They also create lists of people who have engaged with them and their scams and sell them to other scammers. Other scammers then target these past victims with more scams. So if you fell for a scam, one of the things you need to do is watch out for more scams. They will assume that you’re an easy target and go after you a lot more in the coming months (or even years for particularly determined scammers). Be alert for their attempts.

Proactive steps to take to be safer

Getting caught in a scam sucks. That’s the long and short of it. But if you want to avoid going through all the things you need to do if you fell for a scam in the future, you can take proactive steps to make yourself more secure.

The first step is awareness. Knowing what’s out there can help you spot it when it comes. The WhatIsMyIPAddress.com blog has a lot of articles to help you with that. We cover everything from the psychology behind scams to the process scammers use to specific types of scams like tech support scams and holiday scams. It’s much easier to spot the warning signs when you know what you’re looking for.

Second, take steps to improve your online security. Get a password manager and use it. Password managers store all your passwords for you, and you only have to remember the password to get in. Each account can have a unique password that’s long, strong, and completely random, and you don’t have to memorize them or spend time typing it in. Next, turn on two-factor authentication everywhere you can. This will require you to enter a single-use code along with your password every time you log in. Between strong passwords and two-factor authentication, it’s nearly impossible for criminals to get into your accounts.

Also secure your devices. Run backups regularly. Make sure you have a trusted antivirus and set it up to run at regular intervals. And use a VPN every time you use public wifi.

Finally, turn on notifications where you can. Login notifications and purchase notifications are common. That way if someone logs into your account or buys something with your card that you didn’t authorize, you can find out immediately and deal with it before it becomes a major problem.

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