Scam refunds: The best ways to try to get your money back: Internet Scambusters #997
If you've been defrauded via a con trick or unauthorized use of your money and credit accounts, you may be able to get a scam refund.
But it's not easy, especially since every organization has different rules.
The most important thing is to report the crime immediately. Then, follow some of the actions suggested in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
How Can I Get A Scam Refund After Being Conned?
Not every scam victim is a loser. Some get all or part of their money back. But that can depend on knowing how and where to get a scam refund.
Before explaining how to go about this, it's important to realize that if you've been scammed, the first thing to do is to report it.
If the organization that could return your money doesn't know you were scammed, they may never be able to get it back.
There are three key ways to try to get some or all of that cash back into your account or wallet. Let's take a closer look.
FTC Scam Refunds
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a government consumer champion that, among other activities, hunts down scammers. If you report your loss to them and the scammer has sufficient money, the agency will contact you and send you a check or prepaid debit card or arrange for a refund by some other means.
They'll know who you are if you filed a scam report with them or if the crook happens to keep a record of their victims.
From July 2018 to last December, the agency returned around $12 billion, including $1.6 billion worth of checks, to scam victims and others who have been misled or irresponsibly treated by organizations and individuals.
Many of these latter people have ended up in court but others have just agreed to stop their activities and return their ill-gotten gains. More than 10 million Americans have benefited from this.
In about 80 percent of cases, the FTC knows who the victims are. For the remainder, they don't have contact information but if you're one of them, you can file a claim -- provided you know about it. At the moment, only a fraction of these unidentified sufferers actually makes a claim.
Then, the agency divides the total amount of money available by the number of victims and arranges the refunds. Anything left over goes to the US Treasury and, since you probably already give money to them via taxes, why let them have more?!
So, if you discover you've been scammed, you should always tell the FTC by filing a crime report with them and with law enforcement agencies. You can do this quite easily by following the steps at FTC's Report to Help Fight Fraud! page and notifying the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The FTC also publishes a list of refunds online: Recent FTC Cases Resulting in Refunds.
But beware! Other scammers sometimes pretend to be from the agency and ask their victims for bank account details so they can supposedly refund the money directly. But the government watchdog doesn't ask for this information. Likewise, the FTC sometimes sends scam refunds to PayPal accounts but, again, does not ask for sign-on details.
Nor does the organization charge upfront for its service.
So, if you're contacted and asked for account details or a fee, it's a scam.
Scam Refunds from Financial Organizations
If a scammer takes money from your bank account, either directly or by tricking you into transferring money (including payment apps like Zelle), your bank might be able to help. So, again, you should report the crime to them immediately.
If you do this quickly, they may be able to stop transfers and attempted check cashing. Beyond that, rules differ between individual states and banks.
It's worth taking the time to learn about your bank's policies before you encounter a fraud, as this might affect the way you choose to pay.
Credit card companies generally offer the best protection against fraud. Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, and if you notify the card issuer as soon as you know you've been scammed, your maximum liability is usually $50.
The big card names, like MasterCard and Visa, actually have a zero-liability policy. That's why it's always wise to pay for purchases by card and to check your account often in case someone else has been using it.
PayPal, one of the most popular online payment portals, has both a purchase protection program when something doesn't arrive and a policy dealing with unauthorized transactions. The rules and limitations are complex, and you must report the scam within 60 days.
If you send money via a cash-wiring service, you face the biggest challenge getting a scam refund. Unless you're very lucky and call them to reverse payment before it's sent, once it's gone, it's gone.
Same goes for payments using cyber currencies like Bitcoin.
Scam Refund Firms
There's quite a number of asset recovery organizations and legal firms who will chase scammers to try to get your money back -- usually for a fee or proportion of the refund.
A good starting point is to speak to your attorney or search online. Specialist forensic firms are expensive and mainly the preserve of businesses that have lost a lot of money.
As always, research the reputation of any asset recovery firms you're considering, as some of these may be crooked too!
If you're a victim of other types of financial scam -- as with fraudulent tax refund claims for instance -- you may be able to get your money by contacting the organization involved, the IRS in our example.
This underlines the value of always trying to get a scam refund by contacting the company or government department involved. Most financial institutions, utility companies, and retailers publish their scam policies online.
Even if they don't, just ask. At this point, you've got nothing to lose.
This Week's Scam Alerts
Don't Paste: If you're a tech hobbyist or experienced user searching for a solution to a computer problem, be cautious when you find snippets of code online that you're supposed to copy and paste into the "Command" function on your PC. What you paste may not be what you copied, thanks to a bit of behind-the-scenes hocus pocus, which can result in installation of malware or data theft. Unless you know what you're doing, don't paste!
LastPass: A data breach scare at password management company Last Pass in the closing days of 2021 led to some users claiming their master password -- the one used to unlock all the others -- had been compromised. The firm says some notifications of unauthorized use were sent out in error. In other cases, scammers were trying multiple different passwords to try to break into accounts. The company says it has no evidence of a breach, but, hey, why not change your master password anyway?
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.