What to Do If You've Been Scammed Online

It's time for some damage control

If you've been scammed online, don't be embarrassed. Scammers do their best to hit us from every possible avenue, from email phishing to fake websites to cell phone SMiShing, and everything in between.

Internet-based scammers use fear, false urgency, curiosity, and other tactics to steal money and information. Victims don't always report when they've been conned because they're embarrassed about falling for a scam. The truth is that it can happen to anyone. Here are some tips to help you recover.

Burglar leaving a computer monitor with a full sack - Scammed Online
Lifewire / Theresa Chiechi

Call Your Credit Card Company or Bank Immediately

If you gave your credit card number or bank information to a suspected scammer, tell your financial institution as soon as possible so they can put a hold on your account and prevent further charges against it. You may even be able to pause your card from the website or the credit card app, until you can get through to the bank.

Always call the number on the back of your card or on your most recent statement. Never call a number in an email, it might be a phishing scam.

File a Police Report

File a police report as after you've been scammed, especially if money was stolen from your account. Your bank or credit card company will want a copy of the police report, as will the major credit agencies.

Don't call 9-1-1 for this type of issue, though, unless the scammer threatens your life and you're in physical danger. When filing an internet scam or fraud-related report, call the non-emergency number for your local police department and ask for the fraud or computer-related crimes division.

File a Fraud Victim Statement (a.k.a Extended Fraud Alert) With the 3 Major Credit Bureaus

Filing a fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) adds a note to your credit file stating you've been the victim of fraud. The note requests that the business pulling the credit report call you using one of the two phone numbers you provided when you filed the fraud alert.

This doesn't guarantee the lender won't grant the thief credit, but it throws up a red flag. Lenders who read this note will call you and you can tell them you didn't authorize the credit inquiry and the person trying to open the account is an impostor.

Put a Security Freeze on Your Credit Reports

If you're the victim of identity theft or you believe scammers have the information they need to obtain credit cards or loans in your name, monitor your credit score. Contact the three major credit bureaus and request copies of your credit report. While you're on the phone (or on their websites) ask them to place a security freeze on your reports.

Adding a security freeze can prevent thieves from opening accounts using your stolen identity. When a security freeze is in effect, the credit reporting agency asks the requester for your PIN or password before they share your credit score with the lender if someone applies for a loan or opens an account using your name. If the identity thief doesn't know your PIN and the lender follows proper procedures, the lender won't give them an account without knowing if they have good credit.

If you opt for a security freeze, contact the three major credit bureaus and put in a freeze request with each.

Update Your Anti-Malware Software and Scan Your Computer

The criminals who sent you that scam email may have embedded links to malware within it and your computer could be infected. This malware captures your account information and sends it to the scammers. Make sure your anti-malware software is up to date and do a full scan of your computer. As an added precaution, install and run a second opinion scanner.

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