Falling for a scam is something that most people will not admit to. Scammers know this and use it to their advantage, but their victims have no reason to feel embarrassed. Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of people who have been conned out of money or personal information. Most of them were highly educated and affluent—not the type of people you’d think could fall for a scam. I, too, have fallen victim to a scammer’s clever tricks.
These deceptive people are very good at their jobs. In fact, our embarrassment and reluctance to share our experiences is the key to their continued success. If you or someone you know has been scammed, it is crucial to notify the proper authorities as soon as possible for help recovering lost funds and to prevent others from being victimized.
Whom to Contact After Being Scammed
A scam constitutes fraud, which is a criminal act. Notify law enforcement immediately once you realize that you have been conned. This will enable you to obtain a police report, which could possibly help you recoup your losses. It will also allow law enforcement to begin their investigation promptly. At the very least, your report will allow them to issue proper warnings about the ploy to others.
Your Family Members and Friends
You may think that if you tell your family, they will feel you are unfit to manage your affairs. Again, this is what scammers want you to think. However, by telling your loved ones, you accomplish two goals:
- You show them that you ARE capable of managing your affairs because you are now taking the proper steps to mitigate the situation.
- You protect them from becoming a scammer’s next victims.
For example, over the past few years, scammers have been calling unsuspecting members of the public pretending to be from the IRS and claiming they owe money. The fraudulent caller will threaten to issue an arrest warrant in your name and send an officer to arrest you if you do not pay up immediately. People of all ages have received this call, and many have paid.
You might be wondering, “How could someone fall for that?” Just last week, I received a very official-sounding voicemail from a woman claiming to be from the IRS. She simply stated that I needed to call back by end of the day to discuss my tax issue. She even gave me a case number to refer to when I returned the call. If I hadn’t known about this scam, I may have fallen for it. Furthermore, if that had happened and then I did not tell anyone, I would be leaving my friends and family uninformed and vulnerable to this ploy. Sharing knowledge is an important part of protecting yourself and others against scams.
The Federal Trade Commission regularly updates their website with current scam alerts and even sends consumer alert emails to keep the public informed.
Your Financial Institutions
If you provided a scammer with your bank information or they were able to steal funds from your account, you need to contact your financial institution(s) immediately. Depending on the situation, your bank will help you determine the best course of action. This could include getting a new account number and new credit/debit card, stopping payment on a check, or possibly rescinding a wire transfer.
All Three Credit Bureaus
If the scammer was able to obtain your personal identifying information (social security number, date of birth, etc.), then you need to contact all three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and place a free 90-day fraud alert on your credit reports. This will reduce the risk of the scammer using your information to obtain new lines of credit, such as a loan or credit card. You can also place a freeze on your credit to completely prevent anyone from accessing your credit report. You can find more information on how to set up a security (credit) freeze here.
The Social Security Administration (SSA)
If your social security number was exposed, you will need to contact the Social Security Administration by calling 1-800-772-1213. Another suggestion is to create a “my Social Security” account if you haven’t already. You can find more information about the “my Social Security” program here.
You can also report Social Security scams to the Office of the Inspector General by calling their fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or filing a report at https://oig.ssa.gov/.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC is the national clearinghouse for consumer complaints. They use information from people like you to create public warnings. Because the FTC is familiar with many different types of scams, they may also be able to provide you with information on your rights and additional steps you can take to mitigate the situation. You can report a scam or an instance of fraud on the FTC Complaint website.
Your State Attorney’s Office (SAO)
Just like the FTC, your SAO keeps track of reported fraudulent activity and scams within your state. They will also create public service announcements to warn others of these ploys. They may provide tips and tools for you to use to remedy the situation as well. To look up contact information for your local SAO, use the tool on the United States Department of Justice website.
Business or Agency
If the scammer used the identity of a legitimate business or government agency, you should contact them as well. These entities are often the last to know that their names and reputations are being used to swindle people. To help others avoid falling victim to the scam, the affected business or agency will usually notify patrons and post a warning on their website.
Overall, the best and most important step you can take after falling for a scam is to tell someone. At the very least, notify law enforcement, and do so immediately. The longer you wait to inform the proper entities, the harder it will be to minimize the fallout and successfully recover. Share this with your friends and family so they will learn the importance of bringing attention to both successful and attempted scams.
Consumers can find additional suggestions for how to recover from being scammed at IdentityTheft.gov.