Even after all the emotions that come with being taken advantage of, there are so many questions: What should I do? Who should I tell? Can I get my money back?
The unfortunate fact is that many scammers know how to stay a step ahead of their victims and the law. They move quickly and try to cover their tracks in ways that make it harder for their crimes to be reversed.
But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope at all. If you act quickly, you might be able to recover the money they stole from you. And the first step in being able to take quick action is knowing exactly what to do if you’ve been the victim of a scam.
That’s where this guide comes in. Read on to learn about the steps you should take in the immediate aftermath of a scam, and some avenues you might be able to try to get your money back.
If you’ve been the victim of a scam, there’s no time to waste. The odds of catching the scammer and getting your money back decrease over time, so you’ll want to act as quickly as possible. Use this list of steps to start that process immediately.
Whether you gave the scammer your bank details or not, you need to let your bank know what’s going on so they can monitor your accounts for suspicious activity.
When you contact your bank, have as much documentation as possible about the scam. Even if you don’t know much, whatever information you have could be helpful. Call the customer service number for your bank or credit card and explain that you need to report a scam; they will transfer you to someone who can help, typically in their fraud department.
Answer any follow-up questions they ask you to the best of your ability. Even if you’re embarrassed about the scam, don’t hold anything back. Tell your bank everything that may be relevant.
After you report the scam to your bank, make sure to stay in touch. If you don’t hear back from them in 30 days, follow up. And if you feel like your bank isn’t addressing your claims or taking you seriously, reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for further help.
At the same time you’re reporting the scam to your bank, you should report it to law enforcement.
Start locally. Report the scam to your local police, and contact your state’s attorney general office. But keep in mind that there are federal government agencies that exist to investigate and prevent fraud. Depending on the type of crime you were a victim of, there’s probably a federal agency that can help you. See the full list of agencies at usa.gov, or start with the Federal Trade Commission, which deals in many types of fraud, especially where money is concerned.
Just like with your bank, make sure to cooperate fully with law enforcement. Provide them with any documentation you have about the scam, and answer all of their questions completely and truthfully, even if you’re embarrassed.
With every law enforcement official you speak to, ask for a case number. This will allow you to follow up on your case later.
At the same time that you’re reporting the scam to your bank and law enforcement, you can take steps to try to get back any money that you’ve lost.
Keep in mind: none of these steps guarantee that you’ll get your money back. Scammers work quickly, and by the time you’ve handed over the money, it might be too late. However, try these steps, and if you’re lucky, one might work.
If you paid with a credit or debit card: Contact the bank or company that issued the card. Explain the scam to them and see if there’s still time to reverse the charges. If you used a credit card, you can submit evidence of the scam and ask for the card company to issue a chargeback to take your money back from the scammer.
If the scammer made an unauthorized transfer from your bank account: Contact the bank and tell them which charge or transfer was unauthorized. In many cases of fraudulent charges, withdrawals, or transfers, banks can reverse them for you, though this will depend on the details of the scam.
If you made a wire transfer through your bank: Contact your bank and see if they’re able to reverse the transfer. Wire transfers often take some processing time to completely go through, and if you act quickly, there might be time to reclaim your money.
If you sent a wire transfer through a wire transfer company: Contact the company and explain the situation. Companies like Western Union and Moneygram have fraud hotlines and departments dedicated to helping protect their customers from scams. If the money you sent hasn’t been picked up yet by the scammer, the transaction may be able to be canceled.
If you paid with a gift card: Contact the gift card issuer and see if there’s anything they can do. Note, though, that scammers often ask for payment with gift cards because those kinds of transactions are difficult to trace or reverse.
If you paid with a money transfer app: Report the fraudulent activity to the company behind the app or platform. PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, and others have procedures in place for addressing fraud on their platforms. Ask them if they can reverse the transaction — this is more likely to be possible if you contact them very quickly after the scam happens.
If you don’t know the identity of the person, people, or entity that scammed you, the options above might be all you can do, unless law enforcement is able to find them.
But if you’ve been scammed by someone you know or by a business, you have more options for getting your money back.
One option for scam victims is taking their scammer to small claims court.
This is only possible if the amount of money you lost is under the threshold for small claims court in your state, which varies but is typically around $5,000. But if your case qualifies, small claims can be a faster and more affordable alternative to something like a civil lawsuit, which can take months or years to resolve and rack up hefty legal fees in the process.
If taking a scammer to court seems too costly, time-consuming, or complex, there’s another option: Consumer arbitration. Arbitration works a little bit like small claims court — both sides present their case to a neutral third party, called an arbitrator, who makes a legally binding decision about who is in the right and what awards (if any) they’re entitled to. Arbitration has a few advantages: It’s typically quicker and cheaper than a lawsuit, and arbitration hearings can often be done remotely, over the phone or on a video conference.
If you’re seeking money back from a business that scammed you, arbitration is a possible avenue for getting justice. And you don’t necessarily have to do it alone — FairShake can help.
FairShake exists to help consumers fight back against big corporations — and get their power (and money) back in the process. Over 65% of our clients are offered compensation, which averages $700 per claim.
We’ve helped thousands of customers get their bills corrected, fees refunded, credit reports fixed, and more. We’ve taken on gyms, phone and cable companies, internet service providers, banks, and other businesses.
Ready to see if we can help you? Start a claim today.