I Just Got Scammed – What Do I Do?

Last Updated on July 25, 2023

In hindsight, the signs were there. But in the moment, you just didn’t notice them. 

The scammer just made the story so convincing.

After taking a deep breath and a fresh look at the situation, you’ve now come to the realization that you just got scammed. Unfortunately, the money you sent as part of the scam is as good as gone, and any personal information you shared is potentially being sold to other scammers. 

No one wants to admit to becoming the victim of a scam. But don’t let embarrassment stop you from fighting back. 

We’ll spell out what you should do after a scammer takes your money and your personal information. You can take several steps to protect yourself after becoming the victim of a scam. 

The unfortunate truth is that once scammers convince you to send them some money, they almost certainly will try again with you. Depending on what they learned while running the scam, they also may try to steal your identity. Bottom line: You need to take steps to protect yourself, including the following 10 steps to protect your identity after a scam.

Credit: mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

1. End Communication

You may be tempted to reach out to the scammers to tell them you know that they stole your money. You might even think that you can trick the scammers into giving you some information you can take to the police.

This is not a recommended course of action. Remember that the scammer is a professional criminal. You can be certain that scammers are ready for confrontations over the Internet from their victims – and they don’t care.

In fact, they’re more likely to try to trick you into revealing additional information by pretending to be remorseful. They might even offer to return your money if you only give them your bank account number for a direct deposit.

These are all attempts at scamming you further. Scammers are not going to stop trying to take your money, no matter how convincing of a sob story they spin for you.

Additionally, police rarely can catch scammers, no matter how much information you give them. There’s just no good reason to continue conversing with the scammers who took your money.

2. Reach Out to Your Financial Institutions

If you believe your bank accounts, credit card accounts, or investment accounts are at any risk after the scam, you need to contact those financial institutions. If you used any of these accounts to pay the scammer, contact that account holder first.

Let them know exactly what happened. The financial institution can likely give you some advice on how to proceed. It also may be able to mark your accounts with fraud alerts to add an extra step of protection in case the scammer tries to steal more money.

Occasionally, the financial institution or credit card company may be able to reverse the payment you made to the scammer. Contacting the bank as soon as you realize you are the victim of a scam gives the bank the best chance of reversing the charge.

However, scammers also know this, so they almost always try to convince you to send them money via untraceable sources or accounts that are easy to hide and move.

Scammers may run Venmo scams or PayPal scams for this reason. Even more frequently, scammers will request gift cards or cryptocurrency to make the stolen money untraceable.

equifax report

Credit: Screen shot from Equifax

3. Reach Out to the Credit Bureaus

After suffering a scam, notifying the three major credit bureaus can give you an extra layer of protection. 

Even if you don’t believe you shared any personal information with the scammer, you still may have a vulnerability related to your personal information that you don’t know about. Perhaps this vulnerability led to the scammer targeting you in the first place.

Locking your credit report with each of the credit bureaus prevents anyone – including you – from opening new loans or financial accounts in your name. Should you apply for a loan later, you would simply need to unfreeze your credit report.

The credit bureaus can also put a fraud alert on your credit report, causing financial institutions to be wary of new financial account requests related to your name.

The phone numbers and fraud reporting websites for each of the three credit bureaus are:

Equifax: (800) 525-6285 or freeze your Equifax credit report
Experian: (888) 397-3742 or freeze your Experian credit report
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289 or freeze your TransUnion credit report

You can leave your credit reports frozen for as long as you want without affecting your credit score. 

4. Enable Two-Factor Authentication on All Your Accounts

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is one of the best security measures you can take to protect all your online accounts. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) works extremely well, too.

Both 2FA and MFA require that you have two different means of identifying yourself as the account holder before you can access the account. Deploying these account access methods is perfect for protecting yourself when you think your passwords may be at risk.

2FA: After entering your password, the 2FA system requires you to enter a randomly generated code to verify your identity. The company holding the account would send you the code by text or email, whichever you prefer. 
MFA: After you enter your password, the MFA system asks you to use facial recognition, a security question, or a fingerprint to show that you have authorization to access the account. 

If a hacker has your password but cannot access your email, text messages, or face for facial recognition, the hacker cannot access your account when 2FA or MFA are active.

It takes longer to gain access to your accounts when deploying either 2FA or MFA. But the extremely high level of security they offer – especially for someone who recently was the victim of a scam – makes this slight inconvenience well worth it.

Some account providers do not offer the option of using 2FA or MFA. Reach out to these account providers to ask them to consider offering this higher level of protection for your accounts. If an account provider simply refuses to give you the option of using 2FA or MFA, you may even want to cancel your account.

Close-Up Shot of Keyboard Buttons

Source: Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels

5. Update Your Passwords

If you believe that the scammer managed to steal some of your personal information before or during the execution of the scam, you need to protect your accounts. 

Change the passwords you use with these accounts. You can do this at the same time you are activating 2FA or MFA for them. 

If scammers have your account username for any of your online financial accounts, they may be able to use a brute force attack to discover your password.

If you have a weak password that only consists of eight characters or doesn’t use multiple characters, a hacker could potentially crack your password in less than an hour, according to Hive Systems

That’s why it’s important to update your passwords as quickly as possible after you discover that you are the victim of a scam. Upgrade your passwords to at least 12 characters and use a mixture of:

Lowercase letters
Uppercase letters

If you discover that you cannot sign in to any financial account, it’s possible that the scammer already gained control of it and changed the password. Reach out to the financial institution immediately, explain what is happening, and ask them to shut off all access to your online account.

6. Run a Security Scan on Your Computer

If at any point during the scam you downloaded a file that came from the scammer, even something that seems completely innocent, like a video or audio file, you may have downloaded malware.

Malware is malicious software that, when operating on your computer, can perform several dangerous functions that help criminal scammers and hackers, including:

Recording your keystrokes
Allowing someone to remotely take control of the computer
Stealing data stored on the computer
Locking you out of your computer
Spying on your online activities

Scammers may attempt to find a way to have you download malware and install it without realizing what it is. The scammer then may use the malware to learn more about you, making it easier to convince you that the scammer’s story is real by personalizing it to you.

More commonly, though, after scammers get malware on your computer, they turn over control of the malware to a computer hacker. This criminal then tries to steal your passwords and account information. The hacker may try to steal money directly from your accounts, rather than trying to convince you to send it willingly.

If you think you may have malware or viruses on your computer, run antivirus software and anti-malware software to find and eliminate these dangerous pieces of code. 

Ensure your firewall is up and running as well, as it can potentially block the malware from sending data from your computer to the hacker.

Update your computer’s operating system, as some hackers write malware that takes advantage of security holes in operating systems. Often, the latest version of the operating system will fix these holes.

One final note: If you believe you have malware, a malfunctioning firewall, or a badly out-of-date operating system, don’t update your passwords until you fix the issues with your computer’s security. 

If you have tracking malware on the computer, the hacker may be able to track the keystrokes you use to change your passwords. The hacker then would steal your new passwords almost as soon as you change them.

Source: Mikhail Nilov on Pexels

7. Make Sure Your Smartphone’s OS is Current

Although it’s not as common as hacking a computer, it is possible for someone to hack your smartphone. A hacker could try to take the data stored on your smartphone or could listen in on your conversations.

If you use your phone to access your banking accounts or if you store credit card information on the phone, someone who managed to hack your phone as part of the original scam could continue harvesting your data.

The scammer may have hacked your phone by convincing you to download a dangerous app or a video file that contains malware or viruses. 

Android and iOS smartphones do not necessarily need to have antivirus or anti-malware software running on them as computers do. (However, if desired, you can run this software on your phone.) 

Often, the best protection is making certain that your phone’s operating system is up to date. Check for and run system updates regularly on your phone to protect yourself from a hacker.

8. Report the Scam to Law Enforcement

Earlier, I said that police have a very small chance of recovering any money you sent to a scammer. However, you still should report the scam to various law enforcement agencies. 

It’s important to have an official record of the criminal activity if you may qualify for an insurance claim. You can publicize the scam by reporting it to the police, potentially preventing another person from becoming a victim.

Finally, even though the chances are small, perhaps law enforcement can use the information you provide to catch the scammer and recover your money.

The departments you should contact include:

Local: Reach out to your local law enforcement and ask to file an official report about the scamming incident. This report can help with an insurance claim.
State: Many states have a consumer affairs office that allows you to report scams, while other states ask you to report the scam to the attorney general’s office.
Federal: The FBI operates the Internet Crime Complaint Center, where you can report scams that originate on the Internet. Should the scam have involved suspected identity theft for you, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.
BBB: The Better Business Bureau maintains a scam tracker. It then uses this information to help other people avoid similar scams. You can report a known scam to the BBB or submit a report about being the target of a scam, even if you did not send money to the scammer.
fraud prevention-

Credit: mohamed_hassan on Pixabay

9. Don’t Pay Attention to Offers to Recover Your Stolen Money

One of the most common ways scammers try to target you again after stealing your money or personal information is by reaching out to you and pretending to be a different company. 

With this new scam, the scammer claims to be able to track down your stolen money and recover it for you. Just send the company a payment to start the ball rolling. 

Don’t do it.

Recovering your money if you sent the scammer gift cards simply isn’t possible. As we mentioned earlier, law enforcement almost certainly cannot recover your money, so a random company that contacts you will not be able to do this, either.

Take a moment and ask yourself: How did this company happen to know you were a victim of a scam? No matter how tempting it is to want to believe that someone can help you recover your money, it almost certainly isn’t going to happen. 

Do not respond to any offers like this. Do not allow the scammer to make you a victim a second time. Instead, forward the offers to law enforcement.

10. Think About Subscribing to an ID Theft Protection Service

Understand that paying for an identity theft protection service subscription is not going to help you retroactively get your money back or turn back the clock to stop the scammer from targeting you.

However, the theft protection service can help you protect yourself in the future by giving you the tools you need to keep an eye on your personal information.

Suppose the scammer is selling your personal information on the dark web, trying to open loans in your name, or pretending to be you on social media. In that case, the best identity theft protection services can alert you.

Although you can duplicate some of the steps an identity theft protection service does for you, having a second set of eyes on your personal information is helpful. 

Because scammers often target the same people over and over, those who were victims of a scam in the past frequently receive significant benefits from the ID theft protection service subscription.

Back View of a Person Typing on a Keyboard

Source: Mikhail Nilov on Pexels

Don’t Let a Scammer Get You Twice

It’s a scary, unsettling feeling when you end up as the victim of a scammer and when you lose money. It’s natural to have some embarrassment over giving money to a scammer as well. 

However, you can’t let embarrassment or denial about what happened control how you react. 

Instead, even though the money is gone, you can still fight back against the criminal who scammed you. The process of fighting back starts with hardening your defenses related to your personal information.

Scammers have no qualms about coming after you again. Working to ensure you do not become a repeat victim starts with being honest about what happened to you.

You’re then ready to take steps to protect your finances and personal information against the next scammer.

Types of Scam You Should Know: