What to Do If You've Been Scammed (How to Report Scams)

Getting scammed isn't fun, and there's often little you can do to recoup your losses, but there are steps you should take to protect yourself.

Updated 13 May 2021
What to Do If You've Been Scammed (How to Report Scams)
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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. If Your Money Was Stolen (Or You Never Received Payment)
  2. If You Bought a Counterfeit Item
  3. If The Scam Happened Online
  4. If Your Information Was Stolen

If you've fallen victim to a scam or fraud, you're not alone. In just one year, there were more than 2 million scams/fraud events reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and when you combine that with all other scams that weren't documented, it's a lot. Scammers are getting smarter and coming up with new ways to trick you into sending money or giving up your personal information, so it's no wonder millions of people fall victim to scams every year. It's important to report scams to authorities, the site you used, the relevant company, and your bank.

Stolen credit card information

If Your Money Was Stolen (Or You Never Received Payment)

If you've been scammed out of your money, it is usually unlikely that you'll get it back since scammers will request payment via wire transfer, gift cards, or other untraceable and non-refundable methods. 

However, there are a few things you can do to try to recoup at least some of your losses.

Contact Your Bank/Financial Institution

If you transferred payment from your bank or credit card account, call your bank immediately and see if they're able to reverse the charges or cancel the transfer. Although your bank's fraud protection may not cover transactions that you willingly made (even though you weren't aware it was a scam), there is a slight chance they can help you get your money back. 

Some credit cards offer more protection than others when it comes to fraud. In most cases, it's safer to complete transactions using your credit card rather than your bank account.

Contact the Payment App

If you transferred money through third-party apps or sites like Venmo, PayPal, or Cash App, contact customer support for the app and report the fraud. If you willingly transferred money to a scammer (before you realized you were being scammed), these apps may not be able to do anything, but it's worth a try. 

PayPal, for example, offers fraud protection for both buyers and sellers, as long as the transaction meets the requirements for a refund. 

Report Scams to the FTC and Local Authorities

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) helps to protect the community from fraud by investigating all matters of scams, fraudulent activity, and bad business practices in the U.S. When you report fraud, the FTC will share this information with more than 3,000 law enforcement officers in an attempt to help stop the scammers.

You can also report the theft to your local authorities which is especially useful if you handed money over to a scammer in person, for example, in a Craigslist transaction. 

Report Scams to the Website or Company

Regardless of the type of scam—whether over the phone by an Apple impersonator or online by a fake Craigslist seller—report it to the company or site immediately. You can usually report scams online, via email, or even by flagging a fraudulent post or user profile. 

You may not be able to get your money or items back, but some sites may offer protection against fraudulent activity and offer refunds.

Cancel the Shipment

If you sent someone an item then found out later that their payment never went through, try calling the shipping company and intercepting the delivery. Depending on the shipping company, this may be possible.

UPS, for example, allows you to intercept packages as long as they haven't already been delivered. USPS also allows you to intercept packages that aren't already out for delivery or have been delivered already, and FedEx allows rerouting and holding packages at a FedEx location. 

Intercepting or rerouting packages can usually be done easily online for a fee. Unfortunately, if the package has already been delivered to the scammer, there isn't much you can do about it.

Real vs fake puzzle pieces

If You Bought a Counterfeit Item

Counterfeit items are sold everywhere—online, in stores, at farmer's markets, on classified websites like Craigslist—you can't get away from them. Depending on where and who you bought the counterfeit product from, you may be able to get a refund. 

Request a Refund/Return

Requesting a refund on a fake product can be difficult, depending on who you bought it from, but it is possible. For example, if you bought it off a site like eBay, Amazon, or even from an actual store, you can report the fraud and request a refund. 

Just be careful, sometimes within the product description, scammers will add fine print stating the product is not the same as the pictures or that it's a knock-off version. If this is the case, it's unlikely you'll get a refund from the seller or site. 

Amazon makes it easy to return products that aren't as they are advertised. However, some sellers have a different return policy, making it difficult to get your money back. 

Either way, you should always request a refund based on false advertising.

Report Scam Products and Counterfeit Sellers to the Authorities

When you buy a counterfeit item, you can report it to both the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (NIPRCC) and the FTC

The NIPRCC investigates all crime related to intellectual property (IP)  and focuses on keeping counterfeit items out of the U.S. Your reports can help the government department seize counterfeit items and prevent others from falling for the same scam.

Additionally, you can report the counterfeit sale to your local authorities. 

Fraud alert for online scam

If The Scam Happened Online

If you've fallen victim to an internet crime, you should report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the cybersecurity arm of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 

Internet crime refers to any illegal activity, including scams, that was committed using the Internet, on the Internet, or through the Internet, including via chatrooms, online forums, email, and websites. Examples of internet crime include, but aren't limited to:

If you've been threatened online and feel like your life is in danger, call 911 or the local police department immediately. This type of internet crime is considered an emergency.

How to Report Scams to the IC3

You can file a scam report to the IC3 online. You'll need to provide as much information as possible, including (if you have it):

  • The victim's name and contact details (you can submit a report on behalf of someone else)
  • Information about the scam and what happened, including:
    • The scammer's name and contact information
    • The scammer's IP address
  • Information about financial transactions, such as the:
    • Bank or financial institute used to transfer money
    • Transaction date and amount
    • Payee name (i.e., scammer)
    • Account information
  • Contents of the email or any communication you had with the scammer

The more information you provide, the more helpful it will be to the FBI. If possible, you should keep screenshots and evidence of the scam in case authorities need them for their investigations. Evidence can include things like:

  • Money transfer receipts or transactions
  • Emails and text messages
  • Envelopes (if you received a package)
  • Phone bills
  • Brochures and pamphlets
  • Screenshots of online listings or web pages


If Your Information Was Stolen

Your personal information can be stolen by scammers in various ways. You could be tricked into giving this information to someone over the phone, you could accidentally put your login information into a fake website, and even companies that you have an account with could be hacked. 

Change Your Passwords Immediately

If you've fallen victim to a phishing scam you should change your passwords to any online account immediately. If you use the same username and password for more than one account, make sure you change the password for all of them.

It's best practice to use a unique password for every online account as this keeps hackers from accessing everything with one login. If you're finding it hard to remember all of the different passwords you have, try a secure password manager like LastPass. 

For future protection against identity theft, you can sign up for protection from companies like LifeLock or IdentityForce. It'll cost you a fee, but it's well worth it.

Place a Fraud Alert

When someone steals your identity, they're usually doing it to steal money or get money from banks and financial institutions under your name. To combat this, you can place a free fraud alert with any of the following credit bureaus:

Once there is a fraud alert placed, scammers won't be able to have new lines of credit issued in your name unless they can verify their identity. Note that you need to renew fraud alerts every year. 

You can also request a credit report to ensure no new lines of credit have been taken out fraudulently.

Freeze Your Credit

If you want to go the extra step and freeze your credit completely, you can. This will stop anyone, even yourself, from being able to take out any lines of credit in your name. 

You'll need to unfreeze your credit any time you want to apply for credit or a loan, then freeze it again. Although this may seem like a hassle, it will save you more hassle in the future if a scammer were to successfully apply for credit in your name.

Report Scams and Identity Theft to the Authorities

If your identity is stolen, you can report it to the FTC online. Not only will they investigate the theft, but they will also set you up with a recovery plan so you can secure your information and keep it safer in the future. 

You can also report scams to your local police department. Some identity theft cases can target the local community, so reporting it can help catch the scammers red-handed. 

Forward phishing emails to the Anti-Phishing Work Group at [email protected]. Forwarding your emails will help prevent future phishing attempts and help track scammer activity.