Lost Money to Scammers? Take Action with These Recovery Tips

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • Consumers in the U.S. lost $8.8 billion to scams in 2022.
  • Financial loss from scams jumped over 30% between 2021 and 2022.
  • Although difficult, it is possible to recover some lost funds.
  • One California prosecutor has seized over $2.5 million for California victims of pig-butchering scams.

Scammers are alive and well in 2023, and they're adding new tricks to their playlists. Scammers are moving beyond the pandemic-themed schemes and socially engineered attacks of 2020. Today, new scams are popping up all the time, including romance scams (like pig-butchering) bogus home-based employment opportunities, and too-good-to-be-true investment schemes.

Throughout North America, financial dynamics are rapidly changing, with embedded lending and Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) financing gaining significant traction, especially in the U.S. As the popularity of BNPL surges, so does the specter of BNPL fraud—casting a shadow over regulators, merchants, and payment platforms alike. The Federal Reserve's launch of the FedNow instant payment service in July hopes to usher in a new era of secure and interoperable transactions.

But what if you already got scammed?

In a recent AARP bulletin, Cy Smith, a financial analyst from San Francisco, shared how he recovered $110,000 of the $1.2 million he lost in a cryptocurrency investment scam in 2021. Smith's victory in a California courtroom highlights the growing efforts to claw back funds lost to various scams—shining a light of hope for other victims.

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Efforts to recover scammed money and how you can fight back

Smith's recovery was made possible thanks to the dedicated efforts of Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Erin West, who has been diligently tracking, freezing, and seizing stolen cryptocurrency as it flows to overseas criminal gangs through online trading exchanges. Smith's experience serves as a reminder of the importance of reporting fraud promptly.

Here are some insight into West's efforts to recover scammed money and how you can fight back:

1. Cryptocurrency: Since December, West's team has successfully seized over $2.5 million for California victims of cryptocurrency investment scams. The Crypto Coalition, a nationwide law enforcement network founded by West in the fall of 2022, now boasts over 1,000 members across 40 states working together to recover funds.

If you're a victim of a cryptocurrency scam: Report crypto scams to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center and your local police department.

2. Peer-to-peer apps: Starting June 30, over 2,000 U.S. banks offering Zelle, the nation's largest peer-to-peer (P2P) payment service, have been investigating and recovering money lost to scammers. This move marks a significant change, allowing recovery even for transactions authorized by users if they fell victim to certain impostor scams.

If you paid scammers using Zelle: Report the scam payment to your bank or credit union within 120 days of the incident. Venmo and CashApp recommend contacting customer service for assistance, though most scam payments cannot be canceled.

Find more tips to keep your money safe on payment apps.

3. Gift cards: Gift card companies may be able to recover some or all of the money sent to scammers via gift card numbers if you take action quickly. Reporting the scam with a receipt can increase the likelihood of recouping funds.

If you've sent money to scammers using a gift card: Call the toll-free number on the back of the gift card or visit the company's website to contact customer service. Gather receipts, emails, and any other documentation of the fraud, if possible.

What about "Recovery Scams?"

Scammers often target recent fraud victims, posing as consumer advocates or government agents promising to recover lost money for a fee or by requesting financial information. Don't fall victim to these schemes—the FTC warns to never trust such offers via email or text and never pay in advance to obtain a refund.

What to do if you've paid a scammer

  • Credit card or debit card payment: Contact the bank or company that issued the card, inform them of the fraudulent charge, and request a reversal.
  • Unauthorized bank transfer: If you see an unauthorized transfer from your account, contact your bank immediately to report it.
  • Gift card payment: Contact the company that issued the gift card, report it as used in a scam, and ask for a refund. Keep the gift card and the receipt.
  • Wire transfer: If you sent a wire transfer through a company like MoneyGram or Western Union, contact the company you used and request a reversal.
  • Cryptocurrency payment: Cryptocurrency payments are typically not reversible. Contact the company used for the transaction and report it as fraudulent, asking for a reversal if possible.
  • Cash sent by mail: Contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 if you sent money by U.S. mail.
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Report scams to the FTC

Reporting scams to the FTC, helps it use the information to spot trends, build cases against scammers, educate the public, and share data about what is happening in your community. If you experienced a scam or discovered one, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

Get more information on scams in your state or metro area.

What to do if you gave a scammer your personal information

  • Social security number: Visit IdentityTheft.gov for guidance on steps to take, including credit monitoring. Get identity theft protection to help keep your personal information safe.
  • Username and password: Create a new, strong password, and change it elsewhere if you used the same password. Use a password manager to create complex passwords and keep track of them.
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AARP Fraud Watch Network

Staying informed and taking prompt action are critical in protecting yourself and others from financial fraud. If you have questions about scams or need further assistance, you can call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline toll-free at 877-908-3360 or visit online for the latest fraud news and advice.

If a scammer has access to your computer or phone

  • Remote access to computer: Update your computer's security software, run a scan, and remove identified threats. Take further steps to protect your personal information.
  • Control of cell phone number: Contact your cell phone service provider to regain control of your phone number. Change your account password.
  • Check your credit card, bank, and other financial accounts for unauthorized charges or changes. If you find any, report them to the respective company or institution. Visit IdentityTheft.gov for additional guidance.
Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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