We write about scams all the time, offering tips and strategies to make sure you don’t become a victim.
But what if you make a mistake and get taken by a con artist? How can you protect yourself?
That question was brought to Bamboozled by a loyal reader who shared the story of a friend who was tricked by a scammy phone call. The friend apparently gave private information of all kinds to the bad guy, thinking it was a legitimate caller.
When our reader asked what advice she could give her friend, we realized the advice could come in handy to all our readers.
So here goes:
1. Immediately call your bank or credit card company
If you’ve given out an account number, ask the financial institution to give you a fresh account number. Discuss your concerns, go over any charges or debits to make sure they’re real, and if any were not yours, dispute the transaction. Then keep a close eye on all your accounts to make sure there’s no fraudulent activity in the future. Depending on the information you gave to the scammer, consider contacting all of your credit cards and bank accounts to ask for new account numbers.
2. Visit the police
Don’t call 911, but you should get a police report. You’d do it if you were mugged on the street, so you should do it if you’re mugged online or by telephone. The report will come in handy as you dispute fraudulent charges with your bank or credit card company. While it’s unlikely your local officers will be able to investigate and find the perpetrator, it’s still smart to get it in writing. Plus, if others in your area report the same scam, police might get some helpful leads.
3. Contact the credit bureaus
You have several options here. You can file an initial fraud alert with any of the three credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — and the bureau will share it with the other two bureaus. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues new credit, making it harder for a thief to open a new account. The alert stays on your report for 90 days, and you can request it be renewed for another 90 days. There is no cost for an alert.
The next step would be to consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report, and you have to do this with each reporting firm individually. When you do this, you’ll get a PIN. If someone tries to open an account in your name, the reporting agency will need your PIN before releasing any information. No PIN, no report, and probably then, no new account approval. Credit freezes — and “thaws,” if you want to lift the freeze — are both free in New Jersey.
4. Watch your Social Security number
Your Social Security number is pretty much impossible to replace, even if it is stolen. Unlike credit card numbers, the feds won’t give you a new Social Security number. So your best protection is to keep a close eye on your account, even if you’re not yet receiving benefits. You can call the agency at (800) 772-1213 or set up a MySSA accountso you can monitor what’s happening online. Learn more about security measures here.
5. Other places to report the crime
You should contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report what’s happened. The agency won’t solve your individual case, but it uses the information from crime-reporters to create warnings to the public and look for trends in scams. You can call 877-FTC-HELP or file a complaint online.
If you were scammed over the internet, also complaint to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, or I3C, which is a multi-agency task force, or central hub for internet-related crimes, run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). You can file a complaint here.
You should also complain to the Division of Consumer Affairs, which is part of the state’s Attorney General’s office. You can call (973) 504-6200 or go online.
6. Contact MVC
If you gave over your driver’s license number, you should contact the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission, even though it doesn’t offer a fraud alert service. The agency said if you fear you’re a victim of identity theft, misuse or fraud, you can schedule a driver conference in Trenton. Call to make an appointment at (888) 486-3339.
7. Protect yourself
If the scam started by phone or robocall, make sure you’re taking advantage of technologies to block fake calls. Learn more about what your carrier offers here.
Then make sure your computer is protected against malware and viruses. Install or update virus protection software and make sure to do so regularly. Investigate what kinds of protections your email program offers, including those that will automatically direct suspected spam and phishing emails to a separate folder.
And make sure you change your passwords. For everything. Every account. And don’t make the mistake of using the same password for every account.
8. Expect it to continue
Once you fall victim to a scam, the con artist knows you were vulnerable once. So maybe, the criminal hopes, you’ll be vulnerable again. The next scam might be different, but they’ll hope you’re the same sucker once again. Be sure to ignore all emails and phone calls that you don’t recognize.