How to Recover From Being Scammed: 7 Steps to Take

While dispiriting and potentially devastating, the damage faced after being scammed can be rectified by following a few steps.


Jeremy Fuchs
Updated 3 September 2021
How to Recover From Being Scammed: 7 Steps to Take
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United States Scam & Fraud Statistics 2020


$3.3 billion total fraud losses
4.7 million fraud reports

1.4 million reports of identity theft

Source: 2019-20 Consumer Sentinel Report

Sections on this page
  1. How to Recover if You’ve Been Scammed
  2. How Can You Tell If You’re Being Scammed?
  3. What to Do After Being Scammed
  4. Common Scams to Be Aware Of
  5. Frequently Asked Questions

It can happen to you. In the U.S., one in ten people will be a victim of fraud, and they will lose an average of $600 each. Most scams happen online, and, unfortunately, no matter how safe we are online, it's possible to fall victim. 

How to Recover if You’ve Been Scammed

If you’ve been scammed, it can be very damaging, both financially and mentally. However, there are general steps you can take to begin the road to recovery.

Step 1: Alert the Companies In Question

Call the companies where you know fraud has taken place. That means calling the fraud department and explaining what has happened.

Ask them to close or freeze your accounts. Alert them of any fraudulent charges and ask them to remove/refund them.

Step 2: Change Your Passwords

Change all of your passwords and logins for your affected accounts and any other accounts that share the same username and/or password. Don’t use the same (or similar) password for more than one account. Although it may be easier to remember your logins, using the same password makes it easier for scammers to steal your identity and money.

Use a password manager if you’re having trouble remembering so many passwords or even creating strong passwords.

Step 3: Contact Your Bank

If you think your credit or debit cards have been compromised, contact your bank and have your cards canceled and replaced. If you notice any fraudulent charges or withdrawals, dispute them and ask for them to be refunded.

Most banks won’t have a problem refunding charges that weren’t yours.

Step 4: Place a Fraud Alert

Contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) and place a free fraud alert. When you place a fraud alert, any business must verify your identity before issuing new credit.

This is especially important if you’re concerned your identity may be stolen. You can also freeze your credit completely so no scammers can apply for credit in your name.

Step 5: Report the Scam to the Authorities

Report the scam to the authorities so they can investigate it and hopefully put a stop to the criminals. Although this step is unlikely to help you recoup any of your losses, it does help with the bigger picture, helping authorities catch scammers and educate others, so there are fewer victims in the future.

Step 6: Correct Your Credit Report

If you notice someone has gotten credit in your name (e.g., applied for a credit card), write to each of the three credit bureaus to get your credit report fixed. Include a theft report and proof of your identity.

Unfortunately, recovering from identity theft can be a long and stressful journey and can even take years to fix. However, monitoring your accounts and credit report regularly and taking steps to fix things early is key to getting your life back on track.

Step 7: Continue Monitoring Your Accounts

Even after your credit report has been corrected, it’s essential to keep monitoring it. Through April 2022, you are entitled to one free credit check per week from AnnualCreditReport.com. Although this may seem like an arduous task, you never know when a scammer will use your information again and leave you in thousands of dollars in debt.

How Can You Tell If You’re Being Scammed?

The easiest way to discover you’ve been scammed is seeing money come out of your bank account that you didn’t authorize or unexplained credit card charges. That means someone either has your password and hacked into your accounts or has your actual bank or credit information.

Though you can often get money back from a bank or credit card, time is of the essence. A credit card company, for example, isn’t required to handle a dispute if more than two months have passed.

Of course, not all scams are financial. For example, hackers could steal your password and begin sending messages from your accounts; romance scams involve someone posing as a potential love interest, then ask you to hand over money.

Whether it’s financial or not, there are signs that a scam is about to occur or your identity has already been stolen. Knowing these signs and acting decisively can help prevent further damage.

  • Credit rejected. If you have good credit and are now being rejected, it might be a sign someone has been impersonating you and buying things without your knowledge.
  • Your bank asks for your PIN. Banks will never ask for your PIN. If you get a call from your bank asking for your PIN, it’s not them. Hang up and call the number from your bank’s official site.
  • Someone asks for remote access to your computer. This can be a way for hackers to install malware on your computer.
  • Requests to pay using gift cards. Gift cards are an effective way for scammers to get money since they are hard to trace. If anyone asks you to pay for an item or a bill using gift cards, it’s a scam.
  • Spelling and grammatical errors. Although this isn’t always a sure sign of a scam, it can be, especially if you receive an email that looks like it’s from a legitimate company but is full of errors.
  • A buyer or seller who refuses to meet in person. When individuals from sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace don’t want to meet you in person to hand over the item or money, you should back out of the transaction.
  • An ask, out of the blue, for a large sum of money. Even if someone you know is texting or messaging you on Facebook, be cautious. Be sure to verify that it’s them first before sending any money—their account (and even phone number) could have been hacked.

What to Do After Being Scammed

The actions you take after being scammed depend on the type of scam that’s been perpetuated.

Phishing

If you’ve been affected by a phishing scam (in which an email, instant message, social media message, or file is used to impersonate legitimate companies or businesses to steal your information), there are steps you can take:

  • Change your passwords immediately, not just on the affected account but on all accounts.
  • Notify the organization that was impersonated.
  • Use anti-virus software to scan your computer. That will let you know if any malicious viruses have been installed onto your computer.

Buying Counterfeit Products

Sometimes, the product you buy and what arrives at your door are two different things. If you’ve purchased a counterfeit item, here’s what you should do:

  • Notify the seller or the platform where you bought the item.
  • Return the item.
  • Ask for a refund from the seller or platform (like Amazon).
  • Contact the credit card company to request a chargeback.

Identity Theft

If a scammer has your Social Security number and other personal information, they can apply for credit cards and loans in your name. This could have devastating effects on your credit. If this happens, here’s how you should respond:

  • Contact the credit card company’s fraud department. Ask them to investigate the fraud and close that account.
  • Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
  • Freeze your credit or place a fraud alert. A fraud alert lasts for at least 90 days and tells potential lenders that you may have been a victim of identity theft. Lenders will have to contact you directly to verify your identity. A credit freeze prevents lenders from even accessing your report without your permission.
  • Dispute fraudulent charges and information with credit bureaus. You can work with these bureaus to remove the charges. Whether you report the dispute by phone or mail, the credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate. Failure to report and dispute these charges can negatively impact your score since it could lead to late payments and/or high credit utilization.
  • Continue to monitor your credit report for any discrepancies regularly.

Credit Card or Bank Account Fraud

If someone has gotten access to your credit/debit card information (or even stolen your physical cards), contact your bank and:

  • Cancel your cards
  • Have new cards sent to you (with new card numbers)
  • Dispute any fraudulent charges and withdrawals

Common Scams to Be Aware Of

There are tons of scams, most of them online, that can take money from you and wreak havoc on your life. Staying aware of the different types of scams can help you protect your information and money from getting into the hands of the wrong people.

Phishing

Phishing occurs when someone pretends to be someone they’re not to steal your identity. It’s most common on email, but various forms exist. (Smishing happens via text message; vishing happens via voice mail.) There are numerous ways to detect a phishing attack:

  • Look for spelling or grammatical errors.
  • Check the sender’s email. Sometimes an email will claim to come from a major company, but if you inspect the address, there are errors.
  • Check the links. Sometimes hackers will say links are going to one place, but the links actually go to a malicious site.
  • If an email has urgency, such as saying your bank account will be locked out in minutes, it’s probably a scam.
  • Request for personal information, such as your Social Security number. Genuine organizations won’t ask for this over email.

Investment Scams

An investment scam happens when someone aims to get your money in exchange for a “proven” investment. If someone claims that they have a proven system or will guarantee you untold riches, report it. It’s not real. In general, investment scams hope to get your money without offering anywhere close to the promised return—in most cases, the investor loses their money.

Health Insurance Scams

A health insurance scam happens when a company offers you insurance that doesn’t actually cover your health care costs. This often occurs in relation to Medicare or for a fake medical discount plan. All insurance companies have to be registered with their state—a good rule of thumb is to always check with your state’s insurance commissioner to see if the company is legit.

Rehab Scams Taking Advantage of Insurance

Another form of health insurance scam involves sketchy drug or alcohol rehabs who over-bill or sign you up for premium insurance plans so they can reimburse their costs at a higher rate.

Fake Check Scams

A fake check scam happens when someone asks you to deposit a check in your account and send funds to someone else. When successful, this scam leaves you on the hook for paying the money to the bank.

Lottery or Prize Scams

This is a common scam that happens when you’re told you have won the lottery or a cash prize. To claim the payout, you’re asked to pay an upfront fee, but your winnings never arrive.

Tax Fraud

In a tax fraud scheme, hackers pose as tax collectors, threatening you with arrest or other scary punishments to get you to pay up.

Ponzi Scheme

A Ponzi scheme is a form of investment fraud where you’re promised huge returns on your investment. However, your money is never actually invested—it’s used to pay other investors to make them think they’re getting returns.

Pyramid Scheme

A pyramid scheme happens when someone at the top recruits additional people to sell something, and those people recruit more people and so on. Pyramid schemes are a statistically impossible scam to pull off. While the people at the top can make money (at least at first), you’ll eventually run out of people to recruit, leaving those at the bottom of the pyramid with nothing.

Frequently Asked Questions

How hard is it to recover from identity theft?

It’s unfortunately difficult to recover from identity theft. It can be incredibly stressful—one study found that 41% of victims experience sleep disturbances and 29% develop symptoms such as heart palpitations. Recovering from having your identity stolen requires a lot of paperwork, persistence, and patience.

Do banks refund money if you’ve been scammed?

In general, the answer is yes, so long as you follow proper procedures. The most important thing is time and that means reporting it as soon as possible. By law, if you report the charges within two business days, your maximum liability is $50. Past that, it’s $500. If you don’t report the fraudulent charges within 60 days, the bank does not have to refund your money.

Can you recover hacked accounts?

Yes. First, try logging in so you can change your password. If you can’t log in, many sites have information on how to restore your account. If someone has actively taken over your account, you may have to prove your identity by filling out verification forms or showing proof of identification, such as a driver’s license.

Can your credit be revived after falling victim to identity theft?

Yes, however, it’s a long and difficult process. It requires contacting the companies where fraudulent charges occurred, closing compromised accounts, putting a fraud alert on your credit report, and disputing fraudulent accounts.

How long does it take to recover from identity theft?

The time to recover depends on the type of fraud. If it’s a simpler case of fraud, such as someone using your credit card without permission but not accessing any more information, it can just be a matter of reporting it and waiting for a new card to arrive.

For the most serious forms, such as someone stealing your Social Security number, it can take months. A good rule of thumb is that it takes as many as 200 hours over six months. In some extreme cases, it can take up to 1,200 hours over the course of a year.

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