5 signs you’ve been scammed – and what to do next

Here’s how to tell if you’ve been the victim of a scam – and what to do to undo or reduce the damage.

Online fraud can be considered as the price we pay for the ubiquity of digital services. These services make our lives easier, healthier, safer and more entertaining. But there are tons of scammers out there waiting to steal our identity and money. Their ingenuity, our trustworthiness, and the company’s poor security combine to make fraud a multi-billion dollar challenge. In 2021, US consumers reported losing nearly US$6 billion due to fraud, up 70% from the previous year, according to the FTC.

Prevention is always the best approach. But we’re only human. And our enemies are increasingly resourceful and determined. That means we must also be primed and ready to react quickly if we are conned – to minimize the impact on our lives and ensure the bad guys can’t benefit.

Two sides of the same coin

Sometimes it’s immediately obvious when something is wrong. You may have just clicked on a phishing link and realized a split second later what happened. Or maybe you just put your phone in the hands of a tech support scammer who has access to your PC.

But other times, it’s less obvious. For example, if a hacker gets your card details or personal information such as social security number through a third party breach. Usually they will sell them in cybercrime marketplaces, where scammers congregate.

This personal data is purchased in bulk and then used in automated attacks including advanced phishing, payment fraud, account takeover, or new account fraud (NAF). Account logins may be resold separately to provide unscrupulous buyers with access to your streaming service, ride hailing account, etc.

The bad news is that there is a continuing supply of stolen data to the cybercrime underground. In the US only there were more than 1,800 violations reported by 2022, affecting 422 million consumers – up 40% year over year.

5 signs you’ve fallen victim to a scam

With that in mind, here are five signs you may have been conned.

  • Unusual transactions and/or new lines of credit. If fraudsters have your data and/or financial details, they can use them in payment fraud – where stolen card details and/or cards stored in hijacked accounts are used without your knowledge. Alternatively, they can use your identifying information to apply for a new credit card. The first thing you may hear about the first is through strange activity in your bank account. If it’s a problem with NAF, it may be harder to identify until you receive a letter or email notifying you of a late payment. Sometimes, the first time a user hears about NAF is when they check their credit score and/or get turned down by a lender.
  • Items purchased did not arrive. Ecommerce scams are another growing problem. Scammers will often try to whip up expensive equipment online, usually at a fraction of the price to entice buyers. Unless it’s out of stock and they just take the buyer’s money, request payment via instant cash apps like Zelle, Venmo, and Cash App, which offer no buyer protection.
  • A romantic acquaintance disappeared. Romance scams generated more than $956 million for fraudsters in 2021, according to the FBI. In fact this may only be the tip of the iceberg, as many incidents go unreported because victims are too ashamed to admit they were brought in for a ride. Romance scammers will usually establish an online relationship with their victim before asking for money for various fake requests such as medical bills, or transportation costs. Once they feel their victims have nothing more to give, they will disappear, never to be heard from again.
  • Account locked. If the scammer has your login info, they will usually access your account and change your password. It can be anything from your social media to your Uber or Netflix account. This can be taken for personal information, including stored credit card details. But they are also valuable commodities in their own right. Instagram accounts are worth $45 each, as opposed to $2 for social security numbers, according to a report. This is because such accounts can be used to spam other users who follow your profile.
  • Unable to withdraw money from crypto investment. Investment scams are another high earner. It generated nearly $1.5 billion in 2021, more than any other category of cybercrime except for business email compromises. Investors are usually encouraged to put money in, perhaps even shown fake returns on their investment. However, when you do want to withdraw the money, they will most likely cut and run.

What to do next

So you have been conned. What is next? If this is a serious amount of money, you may want to contact local authorities. They can also help by sharing recovery plans. Think of agencies like Fraudulent Acts in the UK and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in in America.

The next place to call, if financial data is being collected, should be your bank. Call the bank’s fraud hotline or use your banking app to freeze any cards potentially used by fraudsters. Have them send a replacement card.

Other remediation measures to recover from an attack and build cyber resilience for the future include:

  • Password change. Use strong and unique passwords, ideally saved and recalled by a password manager..
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA), which adds a second layer of security on top of passwords to reduce phishing threats and account takeovers.
  • Keep devices up to date and up to date.
  • Do not store your personal and financial details in online accounts. While it’s more of a hassle to enter details each time, it’s safer if you’re checking out as a guest.
  • Ensure all devices and PCs are secured with anti-malware protection from reputable vendors.
  • Use the leading security solutions across all your devices

Deception is inevitable. But if it does strike, stay calm and take these steps to minimize the impact.

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