Did You Send Scammers Money? Don’t Panic
Charlotte Robinette would do anything for her family. So when she received a frantic call from her daughter saying that her life was at stake, the nurse from Phoenix complied with the kidnappers’ demands [*].
After making multiple withdrawals and wiring money to Mexico, Charlotte emptied her retirement savings, crossed the border, and deposited every last dollar into a Mexican bank account. But a day later — after sending the “kidnappers” over $11,000 — Charlotte finally got in touch with her daughter. She was at home in her apartment.
Americans lost $6.1 billion to fraudsters in 2021 alone [*]. But not all scams are elaborate schemes orchestrated from fictitious Mexican prisons. Often, a fraudulent phone call, text, or email is all it takes for scammers to steal your life savings.
If you’ve been the victim of a scam and have sent fraudsters money, you’re not alone.
In this guide, we’ll cover what to do if you’ve been scammed out of money — from how to try and get your funds back to staying safe and secure in the future.
Your First Steps: Report the Fraud and Secure Your Accounts
There are few things more rattling than the sinking feeling of realizing you’ve been scammed out of money. But whether you’ve lost gift cards, wire transfers, cash, cryptocurrency, or money transfers, it’s often only the beginning.
Once fraudsters have your personally identifiable information (PII) — such as your credit card numbers — they can target you with ongoing scams or identity theft.
Before you try to recover your stolen funds, follow these eight steps to secure your identity (and finances) against future fraud:
1. Document everything
Collect any information that could help law enforcement investigate the fraud and identify the scammer. This includes text messages, emails, phone call summaries, bank statements, receipts, loan denial letters, websites, and social media profiles.
2. Stop all contact with the scammer
After gathering your evidence, end all communications. Take care not to alert the fraudsters, as they may delete WhatsApp conversations or disable websites before you get a chance to take screenshots.
3. Check your insurance coverage
Most identity theft insurance includes access to Fraud Resolution specialists. Aura’s team of U.S. based specialists is available 24/7 to walk you through the steps to take if you’re the victim of fraud, and can even facilitate three-way calls between you and your bank or other impacted companies.
Aura also includes up to $1,000,000 in insurance coverage for eligible losses due to identity theft. This includes replacing stolen cash, credit cards, and sensitive documents — like your driver’s license or passport.
In some cases, your work benefits or home insurance policy may provide similar coverage. Make sure to check those before trying to handle this situation on your own.
4. Freeze your credit
A credit freeze stops anyone from accessing your credit report or opening new lines of credit in your name. To place a credit freeze, you must contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus individually:
- Equifax: Place a credit freeze online or call 1-800-349-9960.
- Experian: Place a credit freeze online or call 1-888-397-3742.
- TransUnion: Place a credit freeze online or call 1-888-909-8872.
5. File an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Go to IdentityTheft.gov and follow the prompts. The FTC will provide a recovery plan and an official record that you can show businesses to prove that your identity was stolen. You’ll need the following details to submit the report:
- Your full legal name
- Date of birth
- Social Security Number (SSN)
- Driver's license number
- Current address and how long you've lived there
- Phone number
- Email address
6. Update your passwords and enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your accounts
If fraudsters gained access to your financial information, they might also have access to your login credentials. Protect your other accounts by:
- Creating new passwords that are long, complex combinations of upper-case and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Using a password manager to store all your passwords and alert you to any compromised accounts.
- Enabling multi-factor authentication (MFA) and using an authenticator app.
7. Scan your devices for malware using antivirus software
Many scams start with hackers installing malware on your phone or computer. Malware can scan for personal information, record your keystrokes, and help cybercriminals seize your information for illicit gain.
Aura offers antivirus protection to monitor your devices for threats and isolate them before they cause any harm.
8. Contact any agency or company that was impacted by the fraud
Consumer protection under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) ensures that you have the right to dispute any inaccurate information in your credit report [*]. Get in touch with vendors to report scams and suspected fraud. Also, request a letter from each company that confirms:
- The account isn't yours and wasn't opened by you.
- You’re not liable for purchases made on the account.
- They've removed the fraudulent charges.
- The fraudulent account and charges have been removed from your credit report.
Can You Get Your Money Back After Being Scammed?
Fraudsters can steal your money by using many tactics, from phishing emails to crypto romance scams to impersonation calls. What to do if you’ve been scammed out of money will depend on how the scam happened and what payment method you used.
Before we explain how each scam works and what to do, here's a quick breakdown of whom to contact if you send money to a scammer.
What To Do If You’ve Been Scammed Out of Money
Here’s how you can try to recover your lost money if you:
- Paid a scammer with gift cards
- Paid a scammer via a payment app
- Paid a scammer with a credit or debit card on a fake website
- Sent cash to a scammer
- Sent a wire transfer to a scammer
- Sent cryptocurrency to a scammer
- Gave scammers access to your bank account
How to get your money back if you paid a scammer with gift cards
Nearly a quarter of U.S. adults aren’t aware that gift cards are commonly used in scams [*]. When you share gift card numbers with scammers, they can take the money and disappear — leaving you with little recourse to get your money back.
In gift card scams, con artists earn your trust or create a sense of urgency to persuade you to send them gift cards.
Bonnie Calhoun received an email from a friend asking for “help” purchasing a $300 gift card for the friend’s niece. Bonnie replied with the gift card’s number and PIN. But a few days later, when she saw her friend in person, she found out that the whole thing was a scam [*].
Here’s what to do:
- Contact the gift card company — for example, Amazon, iTunes, or Walmart. Make sure you have your proof of purchase of the gift card.
- Tell the company there was a fraudulent charge on the gift card, and ask if they can reverse the transaction.
- Unfortunately, in most cases, you won’t be able to refund a gift card that’s already been spent.
💡 Learn More: Why Scammers Want Gift Cards (and How To Avoid Gift Card Scams) →
How to get your money back if you paid a scammer via a payment app
Thieves use apps like Zelle and Venmo in impersonation scams — tricking victims into making financial transactions because they believe they are on the phone with a bonafide bank representative. Often, the fraudsters spoof the bank’s caller ID number to make the con more plausible.
Adylia Roman and her son share a Bank of America savings account. In April 2022, the bank notified Roman's son about three Zelle transfers to a woman called Marie, totaling $2,700.
The mother and son disputed the charges, but the bank claims the transfers were facilitated on an authorized device and were validated by an authorized phone number [*].
Here’s what to do:
- Try to cancel the transfer in your payment app. If the option to cancel isn’t available, reach out directly to the company’s support team and explain that the transaction was fraudulent.
- Notify the relevant financial institution of the fraud. These apps are usually linked to a credit or debit card, so there’s a chance the scammer could get your card information, too.
What to do if you entered your credit or debit card information on a fake website
Scammers send phishing emails or spam texts that include links, which lead to fake websites. These sites can look convincing, right down to the logos and language. But if you make a payment on the site, your money — and your credit card information — will go straight to a scammer.
In 2022, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned about a scam website impersonating a legitimate used car dealer [*]. Scammers lured people to a copycat website with too-good-to-be-true deals and then conned victims out of $130,000 for vehicles that did not exist [*].
Here’s what to do:
- Contact your card issuer immediately to cancel the cards. Tell the bank or card issuer about the fraud, and ask them to reverse the transaction.
- Order a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com and check for other fraudulent activity.
- File an identity theft report with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov. This is an essential step for disputing fraudulent transactions and seeking to erase debts in your name.
What to do if you sent cash to a scammer
Sending money in the mail is never advisable. Unfortunately, many people still make this mistake — and scammers are ready to take advantage. A common type of elder fraud involves a scammer calling an older person with a story about a relative in urgent need of help.
An Omaha grandmother mailed three packages of cash — totaling $54,000 — after receiving a call from a distressed young man. The 85-year-old thought she was sending her grandson bail money after he was in a car accident. Thankfully, the victim's daughter and Boston police were able to retrieve two of the packages, recovering half of the money [*].
Here’s what to do:
- Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 (if you sent cash by U.S. mail). If you used a different delivery service, contact them as soon as possible — the contact information should be available on their website.
- Explain the suspected fraud, and request that the postal service intercept the package before it reaches the scammer.
- Learn more about redirecting a domestic shipment that hasn't yet been delivered or released for delivery.
What to do if you sent a wire transfer to a scammer
Wire fraud happens when a cybercriminal tricks someone into sending money to a fraudulent account. Victims often don’t realize the transfer is going to the wrong account number until it’s too late.
In many cases, fraudsters insert themselves into a genuine negotiation by hacking into your emails. For example, the scammer may impersonate a bank official, real estate agent, or mortgage lender to gain your trust before convincing you to send money.
Aramatzi Matias and her mother were set to close a deal on their dream home when a scammer struck. Matias’ mother responded to an email she thought was from the realtor, transferring almost $40,000 of her life savings. Unfortunately, every cent went to a scammer [*].
Here’s what to do:
- Contact the wire transfer company immediately — for example, Western Union, Moneygram, Wise, etc. Explain that it was a fraudulent transaction and ask the company to reverse the charges.
- Act quickly. Wire transfers take different amounts of time to complete. For example, if you sent the money internationally, you may have up to 30 minutes to cancel the transaction.
- File an identity theft report with the FTC at IdentityTheft.gov.
What to do if you sent cryptocurrency to a scammer
The nature of decentralized finance makes fraudulent cryptocurrency payments hard to trace and almost impossible to recover. With losses of at least $1 billion in 2021, victims lose more money in this way compared to any other payment method — crypto scams claim one in every four dollars lost [*].
A common (and particularly insidious) scheme — combining catfishing and cryptocurrency fraud — is known as a pig butchering scam.
After a San Diego woman received a random message on WhatsApp, she began an online relationship with a man named Louis. Soon after, he encouraged her to invest in crypto — before swiping her wallet when it reached $450,000 [*].
Here’s what to do:
- Report the fraud to the crypto exchange involved and request a refund. While rare, there are cases in which people get their money back after fraudulent cryptocurrency payments — like the California man who got back 10% of his $1 million loss [*].
- If the investing app is connected to a debit or credit card, notify the bank or credit card company. You should also check your credit report for signs of fraud, and consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze.
- File an identity theft report with the FTC and also report the fraud to ReportFraud.gov. While it's unlikely that you will get your money back, you can help protect others.
What to do if scammers have access to your bank account
If scammers gain access to your bank account, they could conduct many types of identity theft. Fraudulent transfers and online shopping purchases are just the beginning, as the thief may use stolen credentials to apply for credit cards, IRS tax returns, or even launder money in your name.
Professional poker player Todd Witteles believes that about 20 other players have already fallen victim to this fraud and warns that scammers could use the stolen banking information to attempt fraudulent transfers to other U.S.-based casinos on the Global Payments network.
Here’s what to do:
- Contact your bank or card issuer and cancel any compromised cards immediately. Talk to the fraud department and explain what happened so that they can watch for suspicious activity on your account.
- Place a fraud alert or credit freeze to prevent scammers from securing new cards or loans in your name.
- Contact the credit reporting bureaus and affected vendors if you spot any fraudulent transactions. An FTC report will help you prove the fraud, reverse the charges, and remove the activity from your credit report.
- Contact local law enforcement if necessary — for example, if the fraud continues or if you suspect the scammer is in the local area.
- Check if your personal information was leaked online using Aura’s free Dark Web scanner.
How To Protect Yourself from Losing Money to Scammers
Knowing what to do if you've been scammed out of money is smart — but a proactive stance to prevent scams is even better.
Here are 10 ways you can protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming victims of identity theft or fraud in the future:
- Use strong, unique passwords on every account so that they are hard for hackers to guess or crack with brute force.
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) and use an authenticator app rather than SMS verification.
- Beware of phishing and smishing attempts. Learn the warning signs of these common online scams and how to prevent phishing.
- Always use a virtual private network (VPN) when on public Wi-Fi. It’s best to assume that public networks are never secure so that you can get into the habit of turning on your VPN. Aura includes a built-in VPN with military-grade encryption to hide your online activities from hackers.
- Use antivirus software to protect your devices from malware threats. Regular scans will keep your devices safe and protect sensitive information in the event of a hack. You can also install browser security add-ons and plug-ins to protect your privacy online.
- Get familiar with your bank’s security protocols and features. Knowing how your bank will contact you is important; this will prevent you from being taken in by spam texts or emails. Also, make the most of your bank’s security features to protect your financial accounts.
- Make diligent peer-to-peer payments. You shouldn't send money to people you don't know. Also, never remove the phone number from your Zelle or Venmo account at the behest of random callers — even if they claim to be from a bank.
- Safeguard your financial records. Shred any paperwork containing sensitive information, including bills, statements, and your SSN. If you keep hard copy records, ensure that they are in a locked safe.
- Monitor your credit report. Get in the habit of reviewing your credit report and bank statements each month. If you spot any suspicious activity, consider a credit freeze. Aura includes three-bureau credit monitoring and will alert you in near real-time of any changes, new accounts, or hard inquiries.
- Maintain an emergency contacts list of important authorities to contact in the wake of suspected fraud — for example, emails and numbers for your bank, credit card companies, and local police station. This printed list needs to be readily accessible if you lose your wallet and need to make contact immediately.
The Bottom Line: Keep Fraudsters Out of Your Finances
While there’s no guarantee you will be able to recover stolen funds, the advice outlined in this guide — and your quick reactions — can help you limit the damage to your bank accounts and financial reputation.
If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you should consider an identity theft protection service to keep you and your whole family safe.
Aura helps you recover from financial fraud and identity theft. All plans include the following:
- Top-rated identity theft protection that monitors your sensitive information, bank and investment accounts, online passwords, and more.
- Antivirus software and a virtual private network (VPN) that allows you to work, bank, shop, and browse safely.
- 24/7 credit monitoring with rapid fraud alerts in near real-time that are up to 4x faster than other digital security providers.
- $1,000,000 insurance policy to cover eligible losses — such as legal fees, child and elder care, travel expenses, passports, and more.
- White Glove Fraud Resolution Specialists that provide support to help you navigate the challenges with banks, creditors, and government agencies.