You paid a fee to receive your unemployment check early, only to realize that you’ve been scammed. Or maybe you made a purchase from one of your favorite retailers, but it turns out to be a fake website. Scary, indeed! Plus, you probably feel duped. But it could happen to anyone, really.
In fact, per the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2020 2.1 million fraud reports were filed. About a third of those who filed a report lost some money.
Curious about what to do when scammed out of money? If you think you’ve been a victim of an online money scam, don’t panic. Here are 7 simple steps you can take to safeguard yourself and your finances:
In This Article
Keep a paper trail
If you suspect you might be a victim of an online money scam, scrounge up any evidence you can. Check your statements by logging on to your app or online account. Look over your previous transactions to see if there were any other bogus charges.
Take screenshots of text messages, save emails, and download bank and credit card statements with the transactions that weren’t made by you. If you file a police report or submit a complaint to the FTC, keep copies of any documents you filled out or correspondence you had with these parties.
Reach out to your bank, money app, or credit card company
Even if you’re not 100% sure you’ve been scammed, report it as soon as possible. You may also want to temporarily pause your card so no transactions can go through. Start by reaching out to the financial institution, money app, or credit card company where there have been fraudulent charges that you didn’t make. Next, ask that the transactions be reversed and that the money be returned to your bank account or nulled on your credit card.
Your bank or the credit card company will take steps to protect your account.
Side note about protections against money scams:
Wondering how to get your money back after being scammed online? Banks and credit cards generally have your back. That’s because the money you keep in financial institutions is backed by the FDIC – and up to $250,000 per account per depositor is protected. On top of that, federal law limits your liability on losses on debit, credit card, and ATM withdrawals from $50 to $500, depending on when you reported the scam. However, a lot of credit card companies cover any loss and that number can go down to zero.
With money apps, depending on the app, it could be a bit trickier to get your money back. Some don’t offer buyer or seller protection. You might have to try to settle it with the retailer first, or ask for a chargeback with your bank or credit card company. If you don’t have luck going that route, you might then see if the app can do anything about it on their end, but there are no guarantees.
Report to the credit bureaus
If there’s a possibility the money scam will show up on your credit report—think a credit card opened in your name, or a string of credit card charges on an existing card you didn’t make—you’ll want to file a report with each of the credit bureaus.
There are three major ones—Transunion, Experian, and Equifax. While they share information with each other, they operate independently. So you’ll need to alert each of them separately.
Freeze your credit
To protect your accounts, freeze your credit. When you freeze your account, a potential lender won’t be able to pull your credit. In turn, you’ll block would-be scammers from trying to pull an act of identity theft. You don’t need to be a victim of a money scam to freeze your credit. You can do so at any time.
You can always unfreeze it later, should you want to open a bank account, credit card, take out or loan, or when submitting a rental application. You’ll need to freeze your credit with each of the three credit bureaus. Don’t worry: It used to cost money to freeze and unfreeze your credit, but now it’s free to do.
Besides freezing your credit, place a fraud alert on your credit report. Doing so costs nothing, and it lasts for a year. Unlike freezing your credit, you only need to place an alert with one of the three credit bureaus.
Check your credit report
To make sure there’s no other suspicious activity, it’s a good idea to order a credit report. This is different from getting your credit score. A credit report will list your personal information, different accounts—credit cards, car loans, mortgage, student debt—and payment history.
The good news? You can order a credit report for free from each of the credit bureaus in a given year through AnnualCreditReport.com. (This is the only legitimate one that offers free reports. Beware of imposters.) There are also a handful of free credit monitoring services that can give you an overall look at your credit, and ping you of any changes to your credit history or score.
File a report
If you’ve been a victim of an online money scam, file a report with your local police department. Before you file the report, have the proper documents handy, including copies of your bank statements with the fraudulent charges.
You can also report a money scam with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). While the FTC can’t resolve things or get your money back, the information you offer them can help them build cases against scammers. So you’ll be helping your tribe and beyond.
Protect yourself from future scams
- Create strong, unique passwords. We get it: Security fatigue is a real thing. And while you might be tired of having to create different passwords for what feels like a bazillion accounts, you can use a password manager to help you keep track.
- Carry only the cards that you need. Otherwise, leave your debit and credit cards you don’t use often at home in a safe place.
- Trust your hunches about shady money apps. If a money app is offering something that seems too good to be true, it probably is. Read reviews on an app before you install it, and make sure it’s a legit site. You can do so by checking the URL and address bar.
- Opt into two-factor authentication (2FA). Yes, it’s an extra step. But it makes for safer online banking. Verifying your identity in two ways adds an extra layer of protection.
- See what you can do about speeding up unemployment relief. Remember: To date, 25 states are ending unemployment benefits at the federal level early. If you live in one of these states, expect to say bye-bye to that extra $300 a month in federal unemployment benefits. Look out for emails or texts that tell you otherwise. If they ask for money so that you can receive unemployment, beware.