Summary: Whether you can get your money back from scammers depends on the method of payment and how quickly you act:
Check payment – call your bank to put a stop payment.
Debit/Credit cards – call your bank to reverse the transaction.
Gift Cards – scammers transfer money away from gift cards as soon as you provide them with the pin. Call the issuer immediately, you may be lucky and the money is still there.
Western Union – money can be picked up in minutes, call the customer service, and request a stop if money hasn’t been picked up.
MoneyGram – same as above.
Wire Transfers – call your bank to stop the transfer.
Cryptocurrency (Bitcoin) – irreversible.
Please note: If scammers are in possession of your personal information, identity theft may occur. How do scams lead to identity theft?
The number of victims of scams in the United States is growing but it’s almost impossible to know the exact amount because only 14% of scam victims ever report the scam. Of that number, most are trying to recover their money but many never try either because they are embarrassed, don’t believe they can get their money back, or simply don’t know what to do.
If you are the victim of a scam there are steps you can take to not only report the scam, but to potentially recover your losses. Your ability to recover anything is dependent on three key action steps.
- Respond quickly. Don’t hesitate, don’t procrastinate.
Financial institutions can take actions to stop payments, recover your money, and freeze or cancel an account to prevent further damage. But you have to act quickly. They can only do so much if the transaction has progressed too far. There are also time limits on reporting that affect the liability amounts for certain types of transactions.
- Collect and keep accurate records.
The reporting process for scam recovery is detailed and specific and you’ll need to provide clear and exact information to everyone involved in the recovery from local police to banks to federal agencies. You should also carefully record the name and contact information of anyone you talk to you with regards to the scam report.
- Follow up with anyone you have contacted including police, banks, and/or companies.
This is not a one-and-done proposition. You need to follow up with everyone you have contacted to assess progress and proper follow-through. This is especially important with banks and credit card companies but also applies to companies behind other financial instruments like gift cards, wire transfers, and cryptocurrencies.
Specific Steps to Take Depending on Type of Payment
The ability to recover from a scam depends a lot on how you paid the scammer. Some methods are easier to recover from than others. Here again, time is of the essence.
Payment by Check
Contact your local bank branch immediately. It’s best to go in person but if that delays you, call them and meet with a banker later. Explain the situation. They will put a hold on your account to prevent further charges if the scammer tries to use the routing number and account number that is conveniently printed on every check. They can also put a stop payment on the check. There is usually a $25 fee for a stop payment on a check.
On the back of every debit card is a 24-hour phone number. Call that number the minute you believe you’ve been scammed. If you have called soon enough, they may be able to recover your money through a chargeback process. You could also ask the bank to hold the payment. There may be a small bank charge. You should also request a new debit card with a new card number.
Your total liability is limited to $50 if you notify the bank of the scam within two days of it taking place. Your liability goes up to $500 from three days to 60 days. After 60 days you are liable for the full amount. You should also ask to fill out a fraud affidavit with the bank.
Here again, you should call your credit card company immediately. The sooner you recognize the scam and call, the better the resolution. Credit cards also have a 24-hour phone number on the back of every card. Explain the situation.
Federal law limits your liability to $50 if the card was lost or stolen and zero liability for Internet fraud or situations where the card details rather than the actual card are compromised. And remember. The scammer has your credit card number. Cancel it and ask for a new card. Follow up with the credit card company to ensure the situation is resolved.
Many scammers ask for gift cards as a form of payment across a variety of scams. The cards of choice for scammers are Amazon and iTunes gift cards although they sometimes request others like Walmart. They are untraceable and once they have been redeemed, they are worthless.
Contact Amazon or iTunes or any other gift card issuer and tell them the situation. This is one of the most time-critical recovery events. If you don’t act immediately it’s quite possible the scammer has already used the gift card and the money cannot be recovered.
Wire Transfers, Western Union and Moneygram
Wire transfers happen in a variety of ways. They can be done from your bank to another bank, through Wells Fargo to a bank or currency exchange or through Western Union as a Moneygram to anywhere. These types of transactions are the most difficult in terms of recovery. You can ask the originator of the wire transfer to do a wire transfer recall, but it has to be done within a day or two of the transfer or it’s usually too late.
You can also try to determine if the scammers have been caught and if it’s a large-scale scam there may be a settlement. A recent settlement has forced Western Union to refund people who were scammed between January 1, 2004, and January 19, 2017, and used Western Union to pay the scammer. Unfortunately, there are usually limited means of recovery with any wire transfer.
Scammers tend to shy away from PayPal because it’s fairly traceable. If you made a scam payment through PayPal contact PayPal. Their website has a “Need help? tab. Click that tab and you’ll see a click for the “Resolution Center.” Go there and begin the process. You could also call PayPal at 1(888) 221-1161. This is another time-critical recovery effort so don’t hesitate.
Scammers love Bitcoin. It’s untraceable and usually unrecoverable. Most victims don’t pay this way because they simply don’t understand how Bitcoin works or how to initiate the transaction. Scammers will offer to help you, but it usually results in the mark insisting on another form of payment based on reports to the FTC.
And Would You Believe… There’s a “Scam Recovery Scam”
Scammers are relentless and they have now implemented a scam that promises to help people recover money lost in a scam. They find their marks on a “Suckers List” that is exchanged between scammers. On the list are people who have fallen for a scam. The lists usually have contact information and other info about the people who have been scammed.
The Recovery Scammers promise that they will do all of the work required to recover money from a scam. They usually do nothing but steal more money from victims but in some instances, they will do all of the things anyone could do by themselves and for free like calling a credit card company or a bank. To make matters worse, they ask for a significant amount of personal and financial information to do this “case work” and go on to use that information to expand the scam.
If you have been scammed, follow what has been outlined so far. Banks, credit card companies, and government agencies are happy to help you recover from a scam. Recovery scammers are happy to scam you again.
Standard Steps to Take for Any Scam Recovery
Regardless of the type of scam or method of payment, there are standard steps you will have to take to effectively report the incident and attempt to recover your money. And always remember the first key action: time is of the essence so move quickly. Here are steps to take to start the process.
- Notify the financial institution or company where the money originated.
If you catch the scam soon enough you may recover all of your money. It all depends on the type of transaction and that will be covered in detail below.
- Put a stop on the payment(s) and cancel the account.
This isn’t just about stopping the scam transaction but preventing the scammer from continuing to siphon money from an account. Canceling the account isn’t as extreme as it sounds. You simply reopen a new one with a different account number.
- Notify your local police and file a police report.
A scam is a criminal activity and any attempts to recover your money will typically require a police report to verify the authenticity of the scam and to create an official record of the incident. Do not call 911 to report a scam unless you are an immediate danger. Find and call the general number for your local police.
- Expose the scammer publicly.
Publishing an anonymous complaint online could help prevent future scams. Use websites such as SCAMGUARD™ and #REPORTSCAM
- Notify the FTC.
The Federal Trade Commission has an official form for scam reporting. You should go to this scam report page and file a report. If you are part of a widespread scam affecting many people, it’s possible the FTC will pursue a class action and any settlement will be distributed to the victims. The total amount you recover varies depending on the settlement. They can also offer you additional advice on recovering from a scam.
- Notify the FBI.
The FBI monitors scams in the United States and they too will pursue widespread scams affecting a significant number of people. Go to the Internet Crime Complaint Center to file a report. The FBI also offers an informative video about reporting scams related to Internet Crime.
- Consider notifying your local Attorney General or other authorities.
It’s possible that a county or state Attorneys General office is pursuing scams that affect a large population in their jurisdiction. If they apprehend the scammers and are able to recover any money you could be eligible for financial recovery. To find a local AG office, do a search for “Attorney General + (zip code) on Google and a list will appear. Go to their website and do a search for scams and a page to file a report should appear in the results. You could also reach out to state consumer protection agencies.
Go to USA.gov and search for “state consumer protection offices.” Another resource is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. They offer a recovery checklist for victims of investment scams.
Please keep in mind:
Consumers who have been contacted by scammers could have had their personal information breached. TotalScam!™ highly recommends that consumers whose information has been breached obtain identity theft protection service immediately.
There are several companies that offer identity theft protection in the US. One of the most inexpensive options we were able to find is the protection offered by LifeLock. You can start your protection here.
Disclaimer: The information and opinions contained on this site are not endorsed by LifeLock. TotalScam!™ receives compensation from LifeLock. This helps support our scam prevention efforts.
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