Think You May Have Been Scammed? Here’s What You Should Do Right Now

Scam victim
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No one wants to fall victim to a scam, but it happens a lot. A whole lot.

It’s tough to know exactly how many people have been scammed because some people don’t want to file a report and own up to being stung. But the Federal Trade Commission says 26 million people were fraud victims in 2011.

With the proliferation of scams since then, it’s conceivable that the total number of victims is much, much higher.

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.

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 passwords 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 bonkers list of scams involving:

I mean, really. Is there anything out there that can’t be turned into a scam? I guess maybe kite flying or goldfish breeding.

Anyway, 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.

2. Lock Down Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards

Contact all the financial institutions associated with your bank accounts and credit cards. Just call 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.

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 Three Major Credit Bureaus

Next, get ahold of the three major credit bureaus to let them know what happened.

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 because 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.

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.

Make sure the new passwords you create are strong and not easily cracked. Here are a few strategies to get you started.

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 helps agencies that fight fraud understand what scammers say and do to catch their victims.

In addition to filing a report with your local police department, you should also report the crime to state regulators, the FBI and other federal agencies.

According to the Official Guide to Government Information and Services (OGGIS), “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,”

Use this database to find the Consumer Protection Office in your state. The OGGIS also has a comprehensive list of which federal agencies to contact based on the nature of the scam.

The FTC recommends victims of international scams or fraudulent activity that originates outside of the U.S. file a complaint with econsumer.gov.

“The site is run by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), and is a partnership of 34 consumer protection agencies around the world,” says the FTC. Use it to “get consumer information and file complaints in English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Spanish and Turkish.”

If you need additional guidance on what organizations you should contact after you’ve been scammed, reach out to the Federal Trade Commission by phone at 1-877-382-4357. To file a complaint with the FTC, use the agency’s online assistant.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She was a victim of an internet scam several years ago so she feels your pain if it’s happened to you too.