Photo by Josh Appel on Unsplash
If you ever find yourself the victim of an internet scam, the first thing to realize is that it’s ok, and you are not the first nor last person to fall victim to a scam. Scammers trick millions of people successfully, and though it can be embarrassing, it’s important to take some steps after being scammed both to recover your money and more important to harm and stop the scammers.
The goal of this guide is to teach you how to shut down scammers legally.
- Save everything
Every email, every message. It can be tempting to delete everything and try to move on, but those messages are your evidence and you’re going to use them to burn the scammers and put them out of business. They’re also important for building your case.
- Call the police, give a report over the phone and get a case number
Your local police are not going to arrest the scammer, but they will do something very important and that is give you a case number for a criminal complaint. Call your local police using their non-emergency number and tell them that you’ve been the victim of a scam and would like to file a report over the phone and get a case number for reporting to your credit card company.
They’ll transfer you to a detective who will ask you some questions. It’s ok if you can’t answer all of them, but answer them truthfully and as fully as you can. If they ask you to send them information, do so.
Before you hang up though, get a case number and write it down.
- Call your credit card company, and quickly
Credit cards can be terrible, but they have a really good benefit: credit card companies are great at getting you your money back when you get scammed. However, you have to tell them the right way.
Get in touch with them and let them know you have a fraud case. Explain what happened and give them any evidence they ask for - and most importantly, tell them you have involved your local police department and give them the case number.
Major credit card companies can actually be pretty vicious in going after repeat scammers so already by this step you’re doing damage to the scammer, while also getting your money back.
Get your ticket or case number. Essentially you need some unique number so if an investigator needs to talk with your credit card company about the case they can find your report and details.
You can read more about opening and handling credit card disputes through the FTC
- Open a complaint with the FBI’s IC3
Go to https://www.ic3.gov/ and file a complaint. The IC3 is part of the FBI and tracks online scammers amongst investigating other things. Fill out the form as best as you can, and include your police case number and credit card case number.
One thing the IC3 is very good at doing is seizing the websites and email addresses the scammers use. This means the scammers have to invest more time and cost into operating again.
- Find out where the scammers host their website and get it taken down
Websites do not exist in the void, and the vast majority of websites are hosted by normal, upstanding businesses like Namecheap. These businesses don’t like scammers using their services because it hurts the reputation of the business, and it can have financial impacts on them.
You can go to https://www.webhostinghero.com and enter the scammers website. At the top of the results, it will tell you who the webhost is - follow the link and look for the word “Abuse.”
Most webhosting companies will have you open a support ticket. Just like before, explain what happened. Make sure you include your police case number, your credit card report number, and also tell them that you have opened a complaint with the IC3.
Usually it takes a day or two, but the webhost will investigate and usually do everything they can to take down the scammer. If the scammer paid the webhost for anything, the webhost will forward that information to the FBI and potentially that money can be frozen.
- Take down their email address
Most scammers use email addresses, and while taking down their email doesn’t do very much it still annoys the hell out of the scammers - which makes it worthwhile in my books.
For gmail, use this link: https://support.google.com/mail/contact/abuse?hl=en
For other providers, you’ll have to do some searching but you want to find the “abuse” contact.
The warning signs of a scam
The single biggest warning signs of a scam are asking for payment in unusual ways. Don’t use Gift Cards, Zelle or Venmo for payments of any significant size, ever. If you use these there are almost no ways to get your money back. Venmo in particular will never help you, and Zelle has basically no fraud protections.
If you ever have a family member asking for money, especially in an unusual circumstance, confirm it’s them. The best way to do this is to ask them simple questions that aren’t easily known to outsiders - what their favorite meal is, or about an event that happened in the past.
If you ever get called by the IRS, your bank, or anybody asking for personal information - ask if it’s alright if you call them back via the listed phone number for that organization. Scammers can spoof a phone number if they call you, and will try very hard to convince you to not hang up.
Talking to a scammer
Once you suspect that some form of scam or fraud is going on, stop communicating with them immediately. Don’t threaten them, tell them things like “Well my brother is a police officer!” (because you’ve just given them more personal information) or otherwise express your anger. Just stop responding.
You don’t want the scammer starting more trouble (publishing your personal information online, inviting other scammers to go after you, etc), and you don’t want to accidentally aid the scammer by revealing personal details. Silence is vague and scary.
How to tell your story
It’s really hard when someone takes advantage of us. It makes us feel inadequate and stupid. It can also make us very angry, as it should.
That being said, if we are going to take down these scammers so they don’t hurt other people it’s important to communicate that they hurt you. Often times we don’t want to disclose that we were injured or suffered, but in this situation it’s important that the people you are talking to comprehend how much damage was done and that the scammer is a bad person.
Often times when we have our guard down and fall victim, it’s because bad things are going on in our life. It can be the loss of a pet or finding out about a medical condition. Share those details. There’s a time to play it strong, and there’s a time it’s ok to be vulnerable.