Do This Now If You Are A Victim Of An Online Scam

  • 9 min read

Online scams are growing exponentially this year because more people are spending time online with lockdowns and various laws about going to work or going to school. More people are at home doing research online. Many people are also more desperate for a little extra money. So, if your income is diminished because of lockdowns or companies being shut down, the idea of making an extra few hundred dollars or a few thousand dollars because of some investment or some savings on a purchase might be very appealing. 

And scammers are using this desperation as a way to get people to send them money. It’s just sending money for something that doesn’t exist. It can show up in a number of different forms. It can be a cheap apartment that’s advertised below market rent where you have to send in a security deposit first and last month’s rent. It could be a cheap car. We have to send the deposit. Without seeing it, it could also be things like Bitcoin scams, where if you send in $10,000, you’re going to make money. You know, you pay 20% a month, and then you get your money back. So the idea of making thousands more in income for really doing no work is also appealing. It can be cheap inventory. You know I’m selling this excess inventory from this company for pennies on the dollar. And you send the money in, but there’s really no inventory. 

Most of these online scams originate on social media. When it goes live, you’ll be able to see it on Instagram and Facebook. Sometimes it’s direct messaging that comes to you either way; the scammer is running multiple different scams at the same time. Sometimes it’s a real estate investment. And then, you know the rest. At the same time, they have another thing for bitcoin or something else or about cyber currency. And the result is the same. You send hundreds or thousands of dollars. Online, usually through cryptocurrency or wire transfer, or sometimes gift cards from Walmart or something else that’s untraceable, a scammer takes your money, and then they’ll either go ghost or they won’t respond. Or sometimes they ask for more money. If you lose two or three thousand dollars, they will charge you a fee. We have to release your money. Send us another couple of hundred. They will keep asking for money until you stop sending it to them.

So I might scan this. We’ve seen them for 20 years in the history of our investigative agency. But the last year has seen an explosion in the number of victims because more people are working from home or at home and have more time. And more people need a little extra cash or savings. So they’re falling prey to these scams. So what do you do? If you suspect a scam or have been a victim of one: 

  • The first thing you should do is report it to make sure you don’t incur any more losses; don’t send any more money. 
  • The second thing to do is to make sure there’s no other risk involved. If somebody gets your personal information, did you send a copy of your driver’s license, credit card information, and banking information? locked down. Are there any other risks or vulnerabilities? 
  • Also, look into getting some legal advice from an attorney to find out. If there is any other liability risk you have of being part of a scam, even inadvertently, or to make sure your personal safety isn’t at risk, most importantly from an investigative standpoint, you should remember that we’re not attorneys and we’re not giving you legal advice. And you know there may be other things you need to look into. Like I said, personal safety or liability may be involved, but this is just from an observation by a licensed investigator.

Make sure that there are no other leaks from which somebody can steal money. Do they have your PayPal login? Do they have your cryptocurrency keys? Do they have other ways that they could get more money later? I don’t necessarily shut down communications with the person or tell them; I know you’re a scammer, and you know you get mad at them because there may be. Reasons why keeping the door open might be valuable after you’ve protected any other future losses, injuries, or liabilities, the next thing to do is look at, well, what can I do to maybe get some money back? 

The process of getting the money back has three steps. 

  • First of all, we need to identify who is really behind the operation. Who’s the true identity of the scammer? Most times, they’re going to give you a fake name, a fake email, and a fake phone number. If one exists, the website may not be legitimate. But within all of those fake information sources are clues as to who the actual person is. You know there’s an IP address for that email that you had; there are hosting and registration details for the website. There’s a VOIP provider for the phone number. There is even banking information wherever you send the wire transfer or the cryptocurrency. So there may be a way to piece that together. The question is, “How are you going to do that?” So step one is identifying the person. Why don’t you identify the person and where they are at the end?
  • Step two is finding out where the assets are. What did they own? They own cars and real estate. Do they have bank accounts? 
  • Step three is to complete asset recovery. Those are asset sources, and that is more of a legal process that may require courts or attorneys. It’s not going to be an automatic thing. If you find out they have a bank account at Wells Fargo, you can’t just call Wells Fargo and say, “Hey, this guy scammed me; give me their money.” The bank is not going to take your word for it. They need some more official legal documentation. But the first step is to find out who the perpetrator is. 

In many cases, that’s all you need to do. If you identify the truth or person behind the scam, usually they don’t want their personal information made public, so they might refer you just to kind of keep you off their backs. Maybe law enforcement can get involved to make sure that there are no other victims. But if you identify the person and, you know, call them at their house or, you know, at their job, or email them at their regular email address and say, “Look, you scammed me out of $1500 and gave me my money back,” sometimes that’s enough for them to actually do it. 

The process of identifying the person and finding the assets and everything else is the investigative process. For most smaller losses, you know, a few hundred or a few thousand, it may be worth doing it yourself because the cost of the investigation could be more than what you lost on the scam, and there may be some options. You can check out our website, where, you know, you can maybe buy a few hours’ worth of investigative time where we can do some of the legwork for you and deliver some information to kind of fast-forward it. That may be an option. If you want to do it yourself, that’s fine, too. Our website also has instructional videos on how to do these things: locate people, locate assets, and recover assets. And a lot of the cost involved in doing this type of investigation is just time. It’s just investigative time. So instead of paying for an investigator to spend three or four hours doing this work, if you can do it yourself—even if it takes you five or six hours of work—you could save some money. So you don’t throw good money after bad. 

So either way, that’s the first thing: make sure you don’t have any more losses, identify the party, look for their assets, and then take it a step further because the online scams are, you know, we probably talk to 80 or 90 people a day with inquiries, and half of them are from one of these online scams that took several thousand, sometimes a few hundred, but usually a few thousand in cryptocurrency scams. Rental scams are big; there are even some dating scams. You know people will say that, and you know they’ve talked to you back and forth as a potential relationship partner. And then they say, “Send me $500 for a plane ticket to come see you.” There are all kinds of scams. It doesn’t matter what it is.

It’s just a person on the other end with a keyboard and a computer. They are trying to tell you a story to have you send money. The story behind it is completely vapor. There’s nothing to it, but there’s a reason that you are kind of enticed to send that person money for something that might benefit you. In the future, if you haven’t yet become a victim, there are other videos we have that will tell you how to recognize these scams. You’re verifying all of the things that are being represented to you before you send money, but if you’re a victim, the first step is making sure you’re not going to lose any more money. And then looking to see how you can identify who really is the person that took your funds and took your valuable, hard-earned cash.

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