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What victims of fraud should do first

fraud victim action steps
June 28, 2019

By Tracy Scott

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has identified 23 categories of common fraud schemes. The FBI also provides tips on how to avoid becoming the next victim. Unfortunately, many Americans will only take time to review this list after they’ve been scammed.

Thieves count on victims taking an extended period of time to recognize that they’ve been cheated. The longer the fraud takes to be identified, the more damage the scammer can do to the victim’s finances. If your personal information has been used for nefarious purposes or you’ve been otherwise financially deceived, action needs to be taken immediately to aid in the recovery process.

Here are the steps you should take if you realize you’re a victim of fraud. Depending on the fraud perpetrated, you may need to take additional steps not listed in this article.

Step 1: Identify the Type of Fraud

The type of fraud committed will determine the first step you’ll need to take. For example, if there was fraudulent use of your credit card, then contact your credit card company to report unauthorized usage. Laws governing the crime will also influence the action you need to take since different law enforcement agencies oversee different offenses. 

Other factors that determine how you should proceed:

  • The amount of money taken as part of the scam
  • How the transaction was processed, e.g., via U.S. Postal Service, Medicare, etc.
  • The geographic location of the crime, e.g., on United States soil or internationally
  • The financial accounts accessed, e.g. credit union or investment accounts
  • Whether the scheme involved cash only
  • Whether the fraud is considered an Internet-based crime 

Step 2: Close accounts (as needed)

If a financial account was compromised, it might be necessary to close the account or obtain a new debit or credit card for that account. Contact your financial institution for details on their process for handling fraudulent account activity. Change your login ID and password for the account and use a different PIN for the new card.

Step 3: Gather Your Documentation

Financial restitution might be possible in a court of law. Documentation is required to support your case. Even if your allegation doesn’t go to court, you’ll need evidence to support your claims of fraudulent activity. This might include:

  • All written communication from the scammer
  • Documentation showing transactions related to the crime, e.g., bank statements, canceled checks, and receipts for money orders or cashier’s checks
  • Written notes of the actions you’ve taken through the reporting process. This includes phone logs that show whom you spoke to, when, and what was said about the crime. Don’t forget to add any written correspondence you receive as a result of the communication.

Step 4: Report It

Don’t limit your reporting of the scam to your credit card company or financial institution. Various entities encourage reporting of fraud schemes so they can investigate them and help educate others.

  • Contact local law enforcement and your state’s attorney general. You will likely need a police report to file an insurance claim, submit a fraud alert with a credit bureau, or to comply with a request for evidence from your credit card company.
  • Contact each of the major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to add a fraud alert request to your file. A fraud alert prevents the opening of new lines of credit. The alert can be temporary or long-term. You will likely need to provide proof that you’ve reported the incident to your local police or financial institution.
  • If the fraud is related to a financial product or service, you may wish to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • If the scammer sent you a check or other communication via the United States Mail, contact the United States Postal Inspection Service.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, as applicable.

Atlas works to protect its members by training and alerting staff on how to recognize and stop fraud. We also inform and educate members about security issues on their accounts. Members should also review Atlas’s Fraud Protection Checklist to help protect themselves from fraud. Finally, we encourage members to visit the FTC’s Consumer Information page to sign up for email scam alerts.