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What victims of fraud should do first

fraud victim action steps
October 15, 2020

By Tracy Scott

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has identified 23 categories of common fraud schemes. The FBI also provides tips on how to avoid becoming the next victim. Unfortunately, many Americans will only take time to review this list after they’ve been scammed.

Thieves count on victims taking an extended period of time to recognize that they’ve been cheated. The longer the fraud takes to be identified, the more damage the scammer can do to the victim’s finances. If your personal information has been used for nefarious purposes or you’ve been otherwise financially deceived, action needs to be taken immediately to aid in the recovery process.

If you’re wondering what to do if you have been scammed online, here are the steps you should take if you’re a victim of fraud. Depending on the fraud perpetrated, you may need to take additional steps not listed in this article.

Steps to take if you're a victim of fraud

  1. Identify the type of fraud
  2. Close accounts (as needed)
  3. Gather documentation
  4. Report it

Step 1: Identify the type of fraud

The type of fraud committed will determine the first step you’ll need to take. For example, if there was fraudulent use of your credit card, then contact your credit card company to report unauthorized usage. Laws governing the crime will also influence the action you need to take since different law enforcement agencies oversee different offenses. 

Here’s the information you’ll want to gather:

  • The amount of money taken as part of the scam
  • How the transaction was processed, e.g., via U.S. Postal Service, Medicare, etc.
  • The geographic location of the crime, e.g., on United States soil or internationally (if you know)
  • The financial accounts accessed, e.g. credit union or investment accounts
  • Whether the scheme involved cash only
  • Whether the fraud is considered an Internet-based crime 

Once you’ve gathered this information on this list, you’ll be able to contact the appropriate people with valuable information.

Step 2: Close accounts (as needed)

If a financial account was compromised, it might be necessary to close the account or obtain a new debit or credit card for that account. Contact your financial institution for details on their process for handling fraudulent account activity. Explain that you have been a victim of fraud. Your financial institution will have some steps you’ll need to follow. Change your login ID and password for the account and use a different PIN for the new card.

Step 3: Gather your documentation

Financial restitution might be possible in a court of law. Documentation is required to support your case. Even if your allegation doesn’t go to court, you’ll need evidence to support your claims of fraudulent activity. This might include:

  • All written communication from the scammer
  • Documentation showing transactions related to the crime, e.g., bank statements, canceled checks, and receipts for money orders or cashier’s checks
  • Written notes of the actions you’ve taken through the reporting process. This includes phone logs that show whom you spoke to, when, and what was said about the crime. Don’t forget to add any written correspondence you receive as a result of the communication.

Step 4: Report it

Don’t limit your reporting of the scam to your credit card company or financial institution. Various entities encourage reporting of fraud schemes so they can investigate them and help educate others.

  • Contact local law enforcement and your state’s attorney general. You will likely need a police report to file an insurance claim, submit a fraud alert with a credit bureau, or to comply with a request for evidence from your credit card company.
  • Contact each of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to add a fraud alert request to your file. A fraud alert prevents the opening of new lines of credit. The alert can be temporary or long-term. You will likely need to provide proof that you’ve reported the incident to your local police or financial institution.
  • If the fraud is related to a financial product or service, you may wish to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • If the scammer sent you a check or other communication via the United States Mail, contact the United States Postal Inspection Service.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, as applicable.

Alliant works to protect its members by training and alerting staff on how to recognize and stop fraud. We also inform and educate members about security issues on their accounts. Members should also review Alliant’s Fraud Protection Checklist to help protect themselves from fraud.

Check out these other fraud-related tips


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