What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed Online & How To Report It

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Yaniv Masjedi

Organic Growth at Aura

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    Online Scams Can Be More Costly Than You Think

    When Bruce Barth was hospitalized with COVID-19 in 2020, his phone mysteriously vanished from his room.[*] The phone thief racked up charges on Barth’s credit card, and swindled him out of $2,500 using Zelle — the infamous money transfer app.

    Online scams like this have seen a 70% increase from 2020, with reported losses totaling over 5.8 billion.[*

    Since most victims don’t know the best ways to report scams, they have little to no hope of recovering their money after the fact. Some victims debate whether to contact the bank or the police. Others remain passive, only to lose even more money due to inaction. 

    In this guide, we’ll cover 15 types of online scams that you’ll likely encounter, how they occur, and the best ways to report them. 

    Do You Know How You Were Scammed?

    If you’ve inadvertently paid a scammer:

    • Did you pay with your credit or debit card? Report a fraudulent charge on your card to your bank, and ask for a reversal. 
    • Did you pay using a gift card? Reach out to the gift card company and inform them of the scam. Keep copies of the gift card and its receipt for reference purposes. 
    • Did you send a wire transfer through your bank? Report the fraudulent transfer to your bank. Let them guide you through the due process for a reversal. 
    • Did you use a money transfer app? Contact the company responsible, and report the scam. Also, ask if they have a payment reversal policy to get your money back. 
    • Did you pay with cryptocurrency? If you used a centralized exchange, report the scam to the exchange and ask if they can reverse your money. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with decentralized exchanges, as there's little to KYC (know your customer) for identifying and verifying users. 
    • Did the scammer make an unauthorized transfer in your name? Report the unauthorized debit to your bank. Ask them to either block the transaction or reverse the money back to you. 

    If you gave up Personally Identifiable Information (PII):

    • Did you give up your login credentials? Create a new, strong password using a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. For extra security, enable 2FA (two-factor authentication) on all your accounts. 
    • Did you reveal your SSN (Social Security Number)? Visit IdentityTheft.gov and follow the instructions on the page.

    If someone hacked your phone or computer:

    • Did the scammer gain remote access to your computer? Scan your computer using an antivirus software to detect and fix the virus. 
    • Does the scammer have unauthorized access to your phone? If the scammer has your phone number, report this to your service provider to help you regain control. With cloned access, log out of all accounts and reach out to your  bank to block unauthorized transactions and requests.
    Take action: If you’ve been the victim of an online scam, your bank account, email, and other online accounts could be at risk. Try Aura’s identity theft protection free for 14 days to secure your identity.

    15 Common Online Scams and How to Report It

    1. Credit or debit card scams
    2. Common bank scams
    3. Peer-to-peer payment app fraud
    4. Cryptocurrency fraud
    5. USPS fraud
    6. Social Security fraud
    7. Unemployment scams
    8. Account takeovers or device hacks
    9. Social media scams
    10. Romance scams
    11. QR code scams
    12. Online shopping scams
    13. IRS imposter scams or tax fraud
    14. Scams targeting veterans
    15. Medicare fraud

    1. Credit or debit card scams

    Waking up to a fraudulent charge on your credit or debit card isn’t how you imagine starting your day.

    But this was the harsh reality for a Texas couple, Mary and Lewis Keener, when they discovered one day that they had lost $17,000 to credit card scams.[*]

    FTC Identity theft data
    Source: Q1 2022 data from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network

    Like most scams, credit card scammers use stolen personal information to obtain a credit card without the owner’s permission. Unsurprisingly, in the first quarter of 2022, credit card scams were the most common type of identity theft, with a record-breaking 118,191 reports.[*]

    To report the scam, do this: 

    • Contact your debit or credit card company. Ask for their fraud department and report the case. Record all fraudulent transactions that you want cleared from your credit report. Next, close your account, and request a new credit card. 
    • Change your passwords immediately. Once you detect a breach in your online banking accounts, choose a combination of random (non-guessable) letters, symbols, and characters. This will block any attempt by scammers to access your account, change your details, or withdraw your money.

    2. Common bank scams

    Let’s say you delivered a service or sold a product to someone. But they “slipped up” and claim they overpaid you. So they ask you to refund the difference through a wire transfer or other means of payment. 

    In overpayment scams like these, you haven’t just lost the refund amount but also the cost of your goods or services.

    Like most victims, Teresa Shunk realized she’d been scammed only after her bank flagged a bounced check.[*] She was paid $1,900 for a $200 wedding amenity and was asked to return the difference through PayPal — which she did. 

    However, after depositing the remaining $200 in her account, her bank told Shunk that the check was fake.

    Foreign money and fake check scam stats
    Foreign money offers and fake check scams to date in 2022. Source: FTC

    This year, similar bank scams have cost victims $22.1 million — with each victim losing an average of $2,000.[*]

    To report the scam, do this: 

    • Notify your bank. Contact the fraud department at your financial institution or wire transfer company about the fake check. Work with them to either secure or close your account to prevent further attacks.
    • Contact the FTC (Federal Trade Commission): The FTC fields complaints online about fraudulent checks and demands for wire transfers at reportfraud.ftc.gov. Or, you can reach them by phone at 1-877-382-4357.

    Related: Scammed on PayPal? Here's What To Do

    3. Peer-to-peer payment app fraud

    Over the last few years, peer-to-peer (P2P) payment apps like Zelle, CashApp, and Venmo have become preferred ways to send and receive money. 

    Unfortunately, scammers have devised schemes to use these payment apps to their advantage. They do this by impersonating bank employees and tricking users into giving up financial information.

    Megan MacDonald was one of these victims. After receiving a phone call from her bank about possible fraud, she disclosed her financial information in an attempt to secure her account. Minutes later, the scammer initiated a $3,000 Zelle transfer from MacDonald’s checking account.[*]

    To report the scam, do this:

    • Contact the P2P payment platform. Report the scam to their fraud department and keep screenshots of the transactions. Next, file a police report and send a copy to the P2P app provider. 
    • File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The BBB has a policy that helps fraud victims report their cases to the P2P service. Therefore, every accredited P2P payment provider must respond to the BBB.

    4. Cryptocurrency fraud

    With these types of scams, fraudsters trick unsuspecting victims into cryptocurrency “pump-and-dump” schemes disguised as investments.

    They create fake versions of legitimate cryptocurrency by spoofing domains, trading platforms, and names — making the phony versions almost indiscernible from legitimate ones.

    Crypto scam stats
    Cryptocurrency fraud has hit a new all-time high, with illicit addresses receiving $14 billion worth of crypto assets. Source: Chainalysis

    Late last year, Tho Vu met her future partner Ze Zhao — or so she thought — through a dating app.[*] Zhao convinced Vu to buy Bitcoin and invest on a trading platform with the promise of massive gains. 

    It was only after spending $306,000 on this scheme that Vu realized it was a scam. “Not only had I lost all my savings, but this future that I thought would be a new adventure — it was all a lie.”

    To report the scam, do this:

    • Contact all relevant government agencies. If you suspect fraud, file separate complaints with the FTC, Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), and other agencies. You can file your complaint with the IC3 by visiting ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint.

    If fiat transactions (government-issued currency) can be blocked or reversed, it’s almost impossible with blockchain transfers because there is no one central institution acting as gatekeeper. 

    Law enforcement can’t do much to recover your funds either. Regional and national borders complicate jurisdiction.

    5. USPS fraud

    An email from the USPS about a failed package delivery would likely prompt you to reply — especially if you mailed a check or an important package. But you should think twice before responding.

    USPS phishing email example
    Source: Aura Team

    Emails like the one above, purporting to be from USPS, will usually include phishing links that can steal any information that you enter.

    To report the scam, do this:

    • Report to the USPS. Visit the official website of the USPS at www.uspis.gov/report and file your complaint.
    • Alternatively, you can call the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 1-877-876-2455 to intercept the check or package before it reaches the scammer.

    Related: Phishing Email Examples: 20 Emails That Don’t Look Like It

    6. Social Security fraud

    When a mother of three from Blue Ash, Ohio received a call from the Social Security Administration (SSA), she panicked.[*] Her Social Security number (SSN) had apparently been used to open 25 bank accounts, among a slew of other allegations. 

    Petrified, she did exactly as she was told to “stay out of prison” — which was to buy $20,000 worth of Target gift cards in batches.

    This is only one example of the 568,000 reports of SSN-related fraud incidents and scam calls that the SSA received last year.[*]

    To  report the scam, do this:

    • First, file an identity theft report with the FTC at identitytheft.gov.
    • Then, contact the Office of the Inspector General’s (OIG) fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271. Alternatively, you can submit your report online at www.oig.ssa.gov.

    Related: My Parents Are Using My Social Security Number — Should I Report Them?

    7. Unemployment scams

    Scammers resort to unemployment fraud when they want to evade taxes or claim fraudulent benefits. 

    Spoofed websites with misspelled names or URLs — such as “employ-wiscon.xyz” or “Marylandgov.xzy” (which are examples of “typosquatting”) — are among the most common ways scammers pilfer potential job seekers’ information.

    In May 2022, Sareena Brown-Thomas found herself mired in another variation of this scam.[*] An unemployment identity scheme awarded her benefits that she hadn’t applied for in the first place.

    The real trouble started when she was out of a job a few months later — and couldn’t claim the financial support that was rightfully hers.

    Nearly 400,000 Americans reported having their identities stolen and used to receive government benefits. Source: Insurance Information Institute

    To report this scam, do this:

    • Report the fraud to the workforce agency in your state. Visit The U.S. Department of Labor website to find your state’s unemployment identity theft hotline
    • Notify the police and file a report. When communicating with the IRS about the 1099-G collected in your name, the police report will be your evidence. 

    8. Account takeovers or device hacks

    Your bank details, social media accounts, health data, and contact information can generally be found on your phone or computer. For this reason, hackers and scammers may go to great lengths to get their hands on your devices or accounts.

    With only your phone number, hackers can send you smishing texts that trick you into installing malware or spyware on your devices. Once they gain access, everything you own is up for grabs. 

    BRATA is a banking trojan with information-stealing capabilities that recently made headlines.[*] In the latest version of the malware, it can intercept incoming SMS to steal one-time passwords (OTPs) and two-factor authentication (2FA) codes from banks.

    To report the scam, do this:

    • Contact your phone service provider. Inform them that your phone has been compromised, and request an account reset to prevent unauthorized access. It’s imperative to also keep your devices up to date and only install apps from trusted sources.

    9. Social media scams

    The more you share, the more vulnerable you are to social media scams. And bad actors can use anyone as a pawn in their scams, including unwitting family members or friends.

    Andrew, a 27-year-old financial planner, didn’t catch on until he watched a fraudulent investment advisor siphon away $3,000 from his account.[*] Andrew overlooked some glaring red flags, all because he saw a friend post an Instagram video about his ballooning returns.

    To report similar social media scams, do this:

    • Report the criminal’s account to the social media platform. Take screenshots of your conversation with the scammer, and show them to the customer support rep assigned to you. This will help the platform shut down the account faster.
    • File an incident report with the police, and halt related transactions by seeking help from your bank.

    10. Romance scams

    With hopes of finding love, millions of people turn to online dating websites and apps. But many end up falling for a scam instead of finding a life partner.

    This is one of the ways romance scams unfold: scammers create fake dating profiles using fictional names or stolen identities of people in the military, media, or living overseas. 

    They start by sending you messages and gifts to gain your trust. Once you’re hooked, they start requesting personal information, money, credit card details — the list is endless.

    In 2021 alone, 24,000 Americans lost over $1 billion to romance scams —  and even more losses went unreported according to the FBI.[*]

    To report this scam, do this:

    Notify the dating app: Legitimate online dating websites and companies have strict rules about impostors and scammers. Get in touch with the site’s account safety department and include the following information: 

    • Your reason for the report
    • A screenshot or link to the scammer’s profile (including name, bio, and age)
    • The scammer’s location and other personal information shared with you (email address, phone number, etc.)

    11. QR code scams

    In yet another type of fraud, scammers tamper with Quick Response (QR) codes to redirect you to phishing websites. While QR codes by nature aren’t malicious, always be cautious when you scan a code before entering any personal information.

    Imagine trying to simply pay for parking, only to get swindled through a tampered code. Austin Transportation Parking Enforcement officers discovered over two dozen pay stations that did just that.[*]

    To report the scam, do this:

    • File a police report and notify your card issuer immediately.
    • Secure your online account. Update any vulnerable login information or other online accounts that might have been compromised.
    • Set up fraud alerts or a credit freeze. If you mistakenly entered your financial information on a scam website, notify the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

    12. Online shopping scams

    From fake online stores to enticing social media ads designed to trick you, there are countless ways to fall prey to online shopping scams. 

    These scams top the list of the riskiest scams of all time with ~79% victims losing money.[*]

    Online shopping scam stats
    Online purchase scams vs. social media platforms. Source: BBB Online Purchase Scams Report, 2021

    Even savvy shoppers like Irene Greco couldn’t spot an online shopping scam. After stumbling on a Facebook ad for a pair of Sketchers, Greco thought she’d found a sweet deal. But what she received didn’t remotely resemble what she thought she’d ordered.[*]

    To report this scam, do this:

    • Notify the BBB. Visit the BBB scam tracker website at BBB.org/scamtracker. 
    • Report the social media account. 40% of all online shopping scams originate from social media. Contact the social media company and report ads or accounts that are fraudulent.

    13. IRS imposter scams or tax fraud

    Criminals impersonating IRS agents or other government agencies trick targets into sending money and other personal information. 

    People who fall for this scam become victims of tax fraud and identity theft-related crimes. Just last year, the IRS identified nearly $2.2 billion in losses to several types of tax fraud [*].

    To report this scam, do this:

    • If a return has been filed in your name, print and fill out an Identity Theft Affidavit and mail it to the IRS. You can also request a copy of the fraudulent return from the IRS. 
    • If someone claims you owe taxes, visit the official IRS payments page to verify the claim. Never give out personal information via text message, email, or over the phone. 

    14. Scams targeting veterans

    Veterans and military service members are more targeted and more likely to lose money to fraud than civilians.[*] Among the most common fraud complaint types are imposter scams and lottery scams.

    Purporting to be from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), scammers may say you qualify for “secret” government loans and funding programs. 

    You can claim your funding in exchange for some of your personal information. These funds don’t exist; and by the time veterans realize it’s a scam, they are already entangled in an identity theft scheme.

    To report this scam, do this:

    • Report similar imposter scams using the VA Form 10-0500, and send it to OCCProgramIntegrityTeam@va.gov.

    15. Medicare fraud

    The most common Medicare scam involves victims confirming their Medicare numbers over the phone to fraudulent agents. With verified Medicare information, scammers can file for false claims and reimbursements (among other scams).

    Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes are numbers used to identify the services a healthcare provider offers. In an unbundling scam, malicious service providers may use separate CPT codes for each step of a procedure.

    Example of an unbundled bill
    An example of an unbundled bill in which a patient was charged $722.50 for a nurse to "push" drugs into her IV. Source: NPR

    To report this scam, do this:

    • Keep track of your medical records. Chances are, someone is claiming your health benefits without your knowledge. Request your medical records to see if the bill correlates with the provided services. If you find any errors, send a letter to your healthcare provider requesting that your records be amended. 

    Related: How To Identify a Medicare Scam Call: 7 Scams To Watch Out For

    I Got Scammed Online. Will I Get My Money Back?

    There’s a possibility of getting your money back after being scammed online. But it depends on how the scam happened. 

    For example, if you paid a scammer using gift cards or money services like Western Union or MoneyGram, you’re unlikely to get your money back. 

    On the other hand, a bank would reimburse you if you paid through a bank transfer or were billed unauthorized credit card charges.

    Did you know? In June 2021, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) clarified that if consumers are duped into sharing account access information, they should receive the same protections that are offered if the money is acquired from a stolen debit card or other banking "access device."[*]

    Take action: Protect yourself from the risks of identity theft and fraud with Aura’s $1,000,000 identity theft insurance. Try Aura free for 14 days and see if it’s right for you.

    Don’t Let These Scams Catch You Off Guard. Aura Can Help.

    Online scams are often like emotional games. The more relatable a scammer sounds, the higher your chances are of falling victim. If you receive a call, text, or email from someone you don’t know, avoid revealing any personal information or acting impulsively. 

    Remember the golden rule of fraud prevention: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

    Navigating the complex world of online schemes all alone leaves you vulnerable to scams that you never see coming. But with Aura’s identity theft and credit monitoring service, you have professional guidance at your fingertips 24/7. 

    Aura actively monitors your credit cards, banks, and devices for signs of online scams. We’ll also notify you in real time of any suspicious activity on your accounts. 

    And if the worst happens, you’re covered by a $1,000,000 insurance policy for all eligible losses due to identity theft. 

    Take action against financial fraud with Aura. Sign up today to get 14 days free

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    1. Financial identity theft and fraud
    2. Medical identity theft
    3. Child identity theft
    4. Elder fraud and estate identity theft
    5. “Friendly” or familial identity theft
    6. Employment identity theft
    7. Criminal identity theft
    8. Tax identity theft
    9. Unemployment and government benefits identity theft
    10. Synthetic identity theft
    11. Identity cloning
    12. Account takeovers (social media, email, etc.)
    13. Social Security number identity theft
    14. Biometric ID theft
    15. Crypto account takeovers