The risk of becoming a scam victim or falling prey to fraud is more common than you may believe. The Federal Trade Commission received over 2.8 million fraud reports from consumers in 2021.
If you’ve been affected by a scam, we are here to help you through the process, from ensuring your accounts are locked down to contacting the three credit reporting agencies.
5 Steps to Take If You’re a Scam Victim
Getting scammed is lousy, but if you are, it’s important to act swiftly to limit the damage criminals can inflict. A simple scam can evolve into full-on identity theft if swift preemptive measures aren’t taken.
Here’s a step-by-step guide for what to do if you’ve been scammed.
1. Don’t Be Embarrassed
Unless you’re walking around with your credit card number and all your sensitive information taped to your forehead, you have nothing to be ashamed about if you get scammed.
With so many victims each year, the odds are high that you (and I) will be one, too. Just look at this long list of scams involving:
- Tech support
- Work from home jobs
- Mystery shopping
- College scholarships
- Tax data
- Identity theft
- Imposter theft
- Email phishing
- Credit repair
I mean, really. Is there anything out there that can’t be turned into a scam? I guess maybe kite flying or goldfish breeding, but who knows? Maybe that can also lead to identity theft in the end.
My point is there is no reason to be embarrassed if you get caught up in a scam. If it makes you feel any better, it even happens to journalists who cover cybersecurity for a living.
If you get scammed, take a deep breath and get to work on fixing the situation by securing your bank account and other financial accounts.
2. Lock Down Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
Contact all the financial institutions associated with your bank accounts and credit cards.
Call the credit card company using the number on the back of your card or a recent monthly statement. Let them know what happened and they’ll walk you through how to secure your account.
The sooner you make the calls, the sooner your money and credit will be protected from an additional fraud scheme that may be lurking around the corner.
As a bonus, if bogus charges show up on your account later it’s easier to get the issue resolved because you’ve already alerted the company you’re the victim of a scam.
3. Contact the 3 Major Credit Bureaus
Next, get hold of the three major credit reporting agencies to let them know what happened and to help prevent identity theft.
Ask to have a fraud alert placed on your account. A fraud alert makes it more difficult for thieves to open new accounts in your name or increase your credit lines on existing accounts; creditors will be required to verify your identity before taking any action.
Fraud alerts are free and last 90 days or seven years, depending on which type of alert you choose. To reach the three nationwide credit bureaus, just visit their website or give one of them a call.
Fortunately, when you place an alert on one credit report, that bureau is obligated to notify the other two agencies, so that will save you some time. This is an excellent way to be alerted of suspicious activity.
4. Change Your Passwords
If you were scammed online, be sure to change your passwords right away. This seems obvious, but it’s an easy step to overlook when you’re in the middle of a slight panic. You need to take action before your information starts appearing on the dark web.
Make sure the new passwords you create are strong and not easily cracked. If you need additional assistance keeping track of your passwords, we recommend checking out a password manager to keep everything organized.
5. Report the Crime
It’s important to report the scam to the proper authorities. Though it may be difficult to catch the thieves, reporting the crime to the United States government helps agencies that fight fraud understand what scammers say and do to catch their victims.
According to the Official Guide to Government Information and Services, “While federal agencies are rarely able to act on behalf of individuals, they use complaints to record patterns of abuse which allow an agency to take action against a company or industry.”
The FTC recommends victims of international scams or fraudulent activity that originates outside the U.S. file a complaint with econsumer.gov. Just remember to do this all after you have first filed a police report.
If you need additional guidance on what organizations you should contact after you’ve been scammed and how to avoid identity theft, reach out to the Federal Trade Commission by phone at 1-877-382-4357.
Michael Archambault is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder specializing in technology.
Lisa McGreevy is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.