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You've Been Scammed...Now What?


Online scams are common, and they can be dangerous. But vigilance, good password protection, and taking immediate action to address the scam or spam is a solid defense strategy.

In Part 1 of this four-part series about online security, we looked briefly at online scams. In Part 2, we talked about limiting e-mail spam. In Part 3, we outlined the key to online security: password protection. In part 4, if all else has failed and you’ve been scammed or spammed, what do you do now?

While the action you need to take will depend a little bit on the specific situation, there are some universal steps that will almost always be included in stopping online malfeasance once you’ve been targeted.

1. Take immediate action. As soon as you become aware that something is amiss, make a phone call to any legitimate enterprises that may unwittingly be a party to the scam. In the vignette I described to open the series, I was scammed out of an almost trivial amount of money. Scammers will sometimes float a trial balloon for a small amount to see if any immediate action is taken to close the loophole. If not, you’re putting out a welcome mat for access to your accounts or personal information.

2. Assess the damage. The security breach may not be limited to one account or one vendor. Scour your statements and look for other transactions that may be fraudulent. Notify others who share your accounts about the breach, and make sure they are following good identify protection procedures.

3. Change passwords, and, if necessary, close accounts. In many cases involving an online security breach, your log-in and password have been compromised. If you use the same password across multiple log-ins: First of all, don’t. Second, change each, and make the password unique to each account.

Closing your account may not be necessary, and doing so can be a pain, particularly if it’s an account tied to a number of automatic transfers or withdrawals. Speak to your bank, credit card company, or online vendor to find out their policies and let them know about the situation. They may also have some recommendations; just be careful that those recommendations suit you and not solely the business you’re interacting with. Suspended accounts can be re-opened as soon as you’re comfortable that the risk has passed.

4. Take further action. If you’ve been a victim of some online malfeasance, you can help others avoid the same fate and raise awareness about the scam. You can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau here. You can also notify the National Fraud Information Center here, or the National Consumers League, a long-standing national non-profit dedicated stopping fraud online and otherwise.

Online scams are common, and they can be dangerous. Many people have lost a great deal of their savings and online privacy through the malfeasance of others. But vigilance, good password protection, and taking immediate action to address the scam or spam is a solid defense strategy. Following these practices will make you a much more difficult target.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice