Can You Find the Person Who Scammed You?
After receiving an unusual bill, 81-year-old Barbara Kraus called the number on the invoice to sort it out. But instead of reversing the charge, the woman claiming to be a Geek Squad support representative told Barbara that $4,000 had been accidentally deducted from her bank account and applied to her bill.
To get her money back, Barbara was told, she just needed to supply her banking details. But the whole thing was a scam — and in just over two hours, Barbara lost thousands of dollars [*].
Scammers are only getting better and bolder with their schemes.
It’s estimated that Americans lost over $43 billion to identity theft and fraud in 2022 alone [*].
If you’ve been conned, it’s only natural that you’d want to bring justice to the person who scammed you. But the truth is that finding the person who scammed you is not only difficult — it’s dangerous.
In this guide, we’ll explain what you can do to protect yourself after getting scammed, the proper way to track down someone who swindled you, and whether or not it’s worth it to use “scam recovery services.”
Before You Do Anything: Secure Your Identity and Report the Scam
If you’ve been scammed, you no doubt feel angry, violated, and scared. But while your gut reaction may be to take action against the scammer, you need to protect yourself first.
Nearly 50% of all identity theft and scam victims are repeat victims — meaning that as long as your sensitive information is compromised, you may continue to be targeted [*].
Before you try to track down the person who scammed you or recover your lost funds, make sure you secure your identity first. Here’s what to:
- Gather information about the scammer. The more you can share about the scammer, the better the outcome an investigation will have. Take screenshots of conversations, download profile images, and write down contact details, IP addresses, and anything else that can help identify the scammer.
- Update and secure your online accounts. Scammers can use what they know about you to guess your passwords or answer security questions. Change your passwords immediately, and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) to make it harder for cybercriminals to access your accounts.
- Freeze your credit with all three credit bureaus. A credit freeze stops fraudsters from opening new accounts or taking out credit in your name. To freeze your credit, contact each of the three major credit bureaus individually: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
- Close any compromised bank accounts or cards. Disable your accounts or cards by using your mobile app or calling the bank. Make sure you contact the bank directly — never use phone numbers found in texts or emails.
- Scan your devices for malware and other viruses. Malware can be insidious, so consider using an antivirus scanner even if you haven’t noticed any strange activity.
- Report and block the scammer. Now that you’ve secured your identity and finances, block and break off contact with the scammers. It may be tempting to continue to toy with them; but the longer you engage with cybercriminals, the more you put yourself at risk of further scams.
- Contact the fraud department at any impacted companies. Representatives should be aware of ongoing scams. They’ll help you close any open accounts and define clear next steps for getting your money back.
💡 Related: What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed Out of Money →
Why you should report scammers (and where to report them)
Reporting online scams helps companies, platforms, and agencies find and stop cybercriminals. Investigations can also aid in developing strategies to protect more people in the future.
Here’s where to report scammers:
- On social media. If scammers reach out to you on Facebook, Instagram, or similar social media platforms, report their accounts to the company. The same goes for scammers on dating sites and apps. If you’re unsure how, do a Google search for “How to report a scammer on [name of platform].”
- To the company or agency being impersonated. Reach out to the fraud department at any company or agency where a scammer claims to work. This could include your bank, companies like Apple or Amazon, or government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).
- On your phone (text scams). Copy any scam, spam, or phishing text messages and forward them to 7726 (SPAM) on your cell phone. This reports the message to the FTC. You can also use built-in features on Apple and Android phones to report and block junk messages.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC has an online portal for reporting scams. Visit ReportFraud.ftc.gov to give them more information so that they can conduct an investigation.
- Better Business Bureau (BBB). File a report with the BBB’s Scam Tracker to alert other people of fraudulent businesses and individuals.
- The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Law enforcement agencies like the FBI don’t get involved in most scam cases, but you can still alert them of crimes by filling out a report online.
- Your local law enforcement. If you lost money or know anything about the scammer that could lead to an arrest, you should file a report with your local law enforcement.
How To Track Down Someone Who Scammed You (and What To Do Next)
It’s tempting to try and track down the scammer yourself — but you should leave that to the experts. Instead, your best chance of bringing them to justice is to gather your evidence and then go through the proper channels. Here’s what to do:
1. Collect evidence of the fraud
Scammers are masters at hiding their identities. But the more information you can gather, the better chance law enforcement will have of tracking them down. Ideally, you’ll want to save any conversations, and write down notes and details that could help pinpoint the fraudster’s true identity and location.
Here’s what information you should collect about scammers:
- Contact information and details. Even though scammers use fake names and spoofed emails and phone numbers, this information can still help investigators track them down.
- Conversations and messages. Take screenshots of texts and social media messages — especially anything that may contain personal details about the scammer. Also, write down any phone numbers they used to contact you along with details of each conversation.
- Profile photos. Scammers use fake photos to create their profiles, but these can still help you find them (and warn other victims). Save their profile photos or do a reverse image search to discover from where their photos have been stolen.
- Details about the crime. Write down in detail what the scammers asked you to do — whether that included transferring money to a different account, buying gift cards, or disclosing your personal information.
💡 Related: Victim of Fraud? Follow This Free Recovery Checklist →
2. Don’t bother with “people finder” or phone number lookup services
Scammers are too smart to be tracked down via online phone number lookup services, email search tools, or “people finders” like BeenVerified or Social Catfish.
In fact, scammers sometimes pose as these services in order to identify victims and steal their personal information (this is called a “recovery scam”). Don’t waste your time or money on these tools.
What about private investigators? Some companies offer help from PIs to track down the people who scammed you. But in most cases, even uncovering a scammer’s true identity won’t bring them to justice. Scammers almost always operate out of foreign countries, making prosecution nearly impossible.
💡 Related: Scammer Phone Numbers: Avoid These Area Codes →
3. Fill out an official FTC identity theft report
A report with the FTC acts as your official proof of identity theft and is often required when disputing debts or closing fraudulent accounts.
Visit IdentityTheft.gov and follow the prompts to fill out your report. You’ll be asked to provide proof of your identity — such as your full name, driver’s license number, or Social Security number (SSN).
Once completed, you’ll receive a personalized recovery guide. If an FTC investigation uncovers the scammer’s true identity, you may be contacted to help bring charges against them.
4. File a report with your local law enforcement
While an FTC report will be your main tool for recovering from fraud, there are specific cases in which you’ll also want to file a report with your local law enforcement. This includes if you’ve lost money or if you know anything about the scammer that could lead to an arrest.
To file a police report, you’ll need:
- Your FTC report
- Personal identification in the form of a driver’s license, Social Security card, or passport
- Specific evidence of theft — such as text messages, direct messages (DMs), emails, bank and credit card statements, or collection letters
While you’re at the police station, ask officers when you should follow up on their investigation. Take note of that date, along with which officers you spoke to and when.
5. Report online scammers to the platform on which they contacted you
While you might not always be able to track down scammers in real life, you can almost always find and remove them from online platforms. This not only helps with your own claim; it can also protect others from falling victim to the same scam.
Here’s what to do:
- If you were contacted on a social media platform or dating site. Make your profile private, block the user, and report the incident. Hovering over or clicking on the person’s username should give you the option to report them. If you can’t find it, go to the platform’s help center or call its customer service line.
- If you received a scam text or call. Don’t click on links, and never call back missed numbers. Instead, block the caller and report them to your phone service provider as well as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
- If you were contacted on a messaging platform like WhatsApp. Report the message, and then block the sender. For example, on WhatsApp, you can long-press the message to see an option for reporting it.
6. Check your insurance coverage
If you’ve lost money or missed work due to a scam or identity theft, you may be covered under an insurance policy. Dedicated identity theft insurance is your best bet. However, if you don’t have a plan, you may still be covered through your home insurance policy or work benefits.
Identity theft insurance covers eligible losses due to identity theft, such as:
- Stolen funds
- Legal fees
- Child or elder care
- Lost wages
- Other costs such as postage, notary fees, replacing lost IDs, etc.
Make sure to keep track of the time you spent and the costs that you incurred recovering from the scam, as these expenses could be covered either fully or partially.
7. Try to recover any lost funds
If you’ve accidentally sent a scammer money, cryptocurrency, gift cards, or wire transfers, you may be able to recover your funds. Here’s what to do, depending on the payment method you used:
- Bank or credit card details. Contact the financial institution or credit card company. Instruct them to reverse any unauthorized withdrawals or charges and close your accounts.
- Cash. If you sent cash through the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPS), ask them to intercept the package [*]. You can call them at 877-876-2455 or request an interception through your online account.
- Gift cards. Contact the company from which you purchased the gift card (e.g., Target, Walmart, or Amazon), and share your receipt. Unfortunately, gift cards are nearly impossible to trace. Once they’re spent, it’s very unlikely that you’ll get the money back.
- Money via payment apps. You can try to cancel a Venmo or Zelle transaction; but if it’s too late, you may need to contact the company’s support team. Act quickly because these apps may be linked to your debit or credit accounts, giving the scammer access to those cards, too.
- Wire transfers. Reach out to Wise, MoneyGram, or Western Union. If you get a hold of these companies within 30 minutes of the transfer, they may be able to stop it. You can also try getting in touch with the recipient’s bank. However, the bank can’t do anything once the payment is claimed.
- Cryptocurrency. Ask the crypto exchange for a refund. They probably won’t be able to get your money back, but it’s worth a try. Change the password to your account, and cancel any credit cards or bank accounts associated with it.
8. Consider a digital security and scam protection provider
If you’ve already been the victim of a scam once, there’s a 50% chance that you’ll get scammed again. Consider safeguarding yourself with an all-in-one digital security and fraud protection service.
For example, with Aura, you get:
- Award-winning identity theft protection. Aura monitors your most sensitive information across the Dark Web, online, and in public records (including criminal records) to make sure no one is using your data without your knowledge. Aura’s been rated #1 by Money.com, USNews.com, Forbes, Tech Radar, and others.
- Three-bureau credit monitoring with the industry’s fastest fraud alerts3. Aura monitors your credit file, financial accounts, and more for signs of fraud. A 2022 Mystery Shopper survey found that Aura provided the most reliable and fastest fraud alerts compared to other services.
- AI-powered digital security to protect your data and devices. Every Aura account includes powerful antivirus software, a military-grade virtual private network (VPN), Safe Browsing tools, a secure password manager, and more — as well as optional AI-powered spam call/text protection.
- U.S.-based 24/7 access to White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists. If you have questions or become the victim of fraud, a dedicated support agent will help walk you through the steps needed for remediation. Aura can even facilitate three-way calls between you and your bank or government agencies.
- $1 million identity theft insurance policy. If the worst should happen, every adult member on an Aura plan is covered for up to $1 million in eligible losses due to identity theft.
Are “Scam Recovery Services” Legitimate?
If you post about being scammed online or use a search engine for help, you’ll likely come across “recovery services” that claim to track down scammers and get your money back.
These are scams.
The people behind these “services” are looking to target recent victims of scams — and instead of helping you, they’ll take your money or steal your banking information.
Always stick to official channels for reporting and recovering from identity theft.
💡 Related: Identity Theft Victim Assistance – Where To Get Help →
How To Protect Yourself From Scammers
Ultimately, it’s better to protect yourself from scams than to try and track down a scammer who wronged you. Here are some of the best things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft:
- Learn how to spot if someone is scamming you online. Scammers all follow typical patterns — impersonating trusted authorities, friends, family members, or romantic connections, and then creating a sense of urgency that gets you to act without thinking. Stay up to date with the latest types of scams in order to keep yourself and your family safe.
- Review your bank statements and credit reports regularly. Set a day and time each month to inspect your bank and credit card statements, as well as your credit files, for unfamiliar charges. Until the end of 2023, every American is entitled to three free credit reports per week (one from each bureau) at AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Secure your accounts. Use long and complex passwords that include a mixture of letters, numbers, and special characters, and store them in a password manager. Using multi-factor authentication (MFA) with biometric factors can also keep hackers at bay.
- Install updates and antivirus software. Your phones and computers have software updates for a reason. Most contain patches for vulnerabilities that scammers can easily exploit. Install them as soon as you get notifications. Also, consider installing trusted antivirus software to block your devices from malware, spyware, and ransomware.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi. Fraudsters create Wi-Fi networks that look just like they belong to your local library or coffee shop. When you join these networks, cybercriminals can spy on your browser activity and even access files on your computer. Whenever you’re not at home, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to privately surf the web.
- Reduce your online presence. Social media profiles are goldmines for scammers —revealing where you live, who your friends are, and what types of retail accounts you might have. Make your profile private, and reduce what you share as much as possible. And take steps to remove your personal information from Google search results and data broker sites.
💡 Related: The 12 Best Identity Theft Protection Services In 2023 →
The Bottom Line: Scammers Are Getting Smarter – Aura Can Help
Although it’s tempting to “take revenge” on scammers, the best thing you can do is report fraud through proper channels and protect yourself and your family from future attacks.
But staying safe from scammers can often feel like a full-time job.
To get peace of mind, trust Aura’s award-winning, all-in-one intelligent safety solution to do the work for you. With Aura, you get the industry’s best identity theft protection, fastest fraud alerts, AI-powered scam protection, and $1 million insurance policy.