Help! I've Been Scammed Online!

It's time for some damage control

Laptop wrapped in crime scene tape
Tim Robberts / Getty Images

Scammers are doing their best to hit us from just about every possible avenue these days, from email phishing to fake websites to cell phone SMiShing, and everything in between. Modern-day internet-based scammers use fear, false urgency, curiosity, and other tactics to help them in their quest to steal money and information. Victims don't always report when they've been conned because they feel embarrassed for having fallen for a scam.

If you have just fallen for a scam, you shouldn't feel embarrassed. It can happen to anyone. Here are some tips to help you try and recover.

Call Your Credit Card Company or Bank Immediately

If you've given out your credit card number or bank information to a suspected scammer, you need to tell your financial institution as soon as possible so they can put a hold on your account and prevent further charges against it.

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

File a Police Report

You'll need to file a police report as soon as possible after you've been scammed, especially if money was actually stolen from your account. Your bank and/or credit card company will likely want a copy of the police report, as will the major credit agencies.

You probably shouldn't call 9-1-1 for this type of issue, though, unless the scammer is threatening your life and you're in physical danger. When filing an internet scam/fraud-related report, you 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 on one of two phone numbers you provided when you filed the fraud alert.

This doesn't guarantee the lender won't grant the thief credit anyway, but at least it throws up a big red flag to anyone who is paying attention. Hopefully, they 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.

Consider a 'Security Freeze' of Your Credit Reports

If you've been the victim of identity theft or you believe scammers have all the information they need to obtain a credit card or loans in your name, you'll want to start monitoring your credit score by contacting the three major credit bureaus to 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 helps prevent thieves from opening accounts using your stolen identity. When a security freeze is in effect, the credit reporting agency will ask the requester for your PIN or password before they give over your credit score to the lender if someone tries to get a loan or open an account using your name. Since the identity thief won't know your PIN, assuming the lender is following proper procedures, it won't give them an account without knowing if they have good credit.

If you opt for a security freeze, you will need to contact all three of the major credit bureaus and put in a freeze request with each of them.

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 can capture your account information and relay it back to the scammers. Make sure your anti-malware software is up to date and do a full scan of your computer. You might want to install and run a Second Opinion Scanner as well.

If you want to learn more about how scammers operate and how to protect yourself from future scams, check out our article on How to Scam-proof Your Brain.