How to Get Out of a Scam

Even if you’ve never been scammed before, you may know somebody who has. Technology has made us more productive and connected, but it also puts us at risk of exploitation.

2020 was a high-water mark for online scams and fraud. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 2.1 million fraud complaints in 2020. Consumers lost $3.3 billion throughout the year, or $1.8 billion more than in 2019. Some 34% of those who filed a report lost money, another figure up significantly since 2019.

Not every scam is strictly about money. Some people have been unlucky enough to lose their material property, too. Here are five things to remember if you’ve been scammed.

1. If You Have Provided Access to Your PC

Personal computers are our planners and oracles. They contain a wealth of information like credit card numbers, online passwords, photos, intellectual property, work documents and more.

Giving someone temporary access to your PC may mean they can control it remotely later, in addition to profiting off your information. Here’s what you should do immediately:

  • Reset your most sensitive passwords for local and online accounts.
  • Run a complete antivirus/anti-malware scan and update software.
  • Contact an IT professional or other trusted party to check your machine for signs of tampering.

It’s also important to update your machine’s operating system to ensure any known security exploits are patched.

2. If You’ve Transferred Money to Someone

Fraud attempts like “vishing” and “smishing” involve the perpetrator making contact over voicemail or SMS and impersonating someone else, like a bank manager or law enforcement. If somebody like this starts demanding payments, it can be difficult to keep your cool.

If you believe a scammer has convinced you to part with your credit card number or send them money, call your bank immediately so they can reverse the charges and investigate. If the transfer happened within a mobile app, report the fraudulent activity to the developers and bank associated with your linked credit card.

3. If You Handed Over Personal Information

Protected personal information (PPI) like Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, home and email addresses, and medical records can prove incredibly lucrative for cybercriminals. They can use it to achieve widespread access to your personal life and finances.

Most fraud attempts begin with cybercriminals phishing for your personal information. If this happens, go to and take proactive steps to secure your identity. If the data you handed over was an account credential, change the password immediately.

4. If Your Credit Card Has Been Skimmed

Card skimming declined during the long months of the pandemic – likely due to less in-person shopping. Still, thousands of people get their credit cards skimmed at gas pumps and other point-of-sale locations each year.

If you use a credit card to pay for things, this could happen to you. Here’s what to remember about this type of fraud and what you should do about it:

  • It’s often possible to spot a credit card sniffer or detect signs of tampering at gas stations and self-serve locations.
  • Use contactless payment options when you can, as these don’t use technology that’s susceptible to skimming.
  • If you believe somebody has skimmed your card and begun using it, flag the suspicious charges right away and call your bank.

Banks have zero-liability, zero-tolerance policies to protect their customers. This means you’re not liable for fraudulent charges, and you can get your money back if you sound the alarm right away.

5. If You Sign on the Dotted Line

Sometimes, we manage to reason our way into being scammed. These can be some of the most difficult scams to get out from under, taking many forms.

In some cases, a talented wordsmith might convince us that owning a fraction of a vacation property is a wise long-term investment. If you want to get out, you might have to contact a third party for legal assistance.

You may buy into a recurring subscription or donation with no obvious way to cancel or get out of it. Thankfully, tools allow people to use a credit card with a “burner” number. If the cardholder needs to cut off the flow of funds and interrupt a fraud attempt, they can retire that number while leaving their real credit card information untouched.

6. If You’ve Lost Control of One of Your Accounts

We use online accounts to communicate with others and carry out personal, financial and professional activities. Any tampering requires a quick resolution.

Here are some steps to take if you’ve been hacked:

  1. Update all of your device firmware and software.
  2. Contact the account provider through their Support page and tell them what’s happened. There may already be a FAQ page concerning hacked or compromised accounts.
  3. Change the password if you still have access to the account.
  4. Set up two-factor authentication so nobody else can access your account without a secondary point of contact, like a smartphone.

If the account in question is your email, pay extra-close attention to the settings panel after you regain control. The cybercriminal may have changed the settings to automatically forward your mail someplace else.

Know How to Recover After a Scam

Getting scammed can be a scary experience. Luckily, there are tools and support systems in place to help individuals out of a jam.



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