Whether it’s a refund scam promising to get your money back or a recovery scam claiming to get you the prize or products you were promised, the scheme usually follows a set pattern. Here’s how it happens:
- You’ve already been scammed. You may have given money to a phony charity, paid for a fake prize, or lost money to one of the many other ways scammers try to cheat you.
- Your name is on what scammers call a “sucker list.” Scammers keep and sell lists with information about people who have already lost money to fraud. It can include your name, address, phone number, the kind of scam that tricked you, and how much money you paid. Scammers buy, sell, and trade these lists, expecting that people who have been scammed once are good targets for being scammed again.
- Scammers come calling — again. Using a list of people who’ve already paid money to a scam, the scammer contacts you by phone, mail, or online. The pitch this time is that they’ll get back the money you lost or the prize or merchandise you never got. If you didn’t know you were scammed, no problem. The scammer, using the information they bought, can “helpfully” tell you about the earlier fraud. The information helps the scammer sound credible.
- They make you think you can trust them. The scammers may say they’re with a government agency, a consumer advocacy group, a law firm, a charity, or some other organization. Some even say they’re with the fake company that took your money, and they’re offering refunds to dissatisfied customers. They may say they’re holding money for you, offer to file complaint paperwork with government agencies on your behalf, or claim they can get your name at the top of a list for reimbursement. Whatever they say, it’s a lie, designed to gain your trust — and your money.
- You’re told you need to pay. The scammers promise to recover your money or merchandise, but they need you to pay them or give them financial information first. They may call the upfront money a “retainer fee,” “processing fee,” “administrative charge,” “tax,” “shipment and handling charge,” or even a “donation” to a charity they name. Or, they may say they need your checking, debit, or other financial account number so they can deposit a refund directly into your account. If you give them the requested fee or account information, your money will disappear.
- Scammers contact you and ask for an upfront fee. No matter how someone contacts you — by mail, online, telephone, or text message — it’s never a good idea to pay upfront, especially when someone contacts you out of the blue. And, telemarketers selling recovery services can’t ask for or accept payment until seven business days after they deliver the money or the item they recovered to you because it’s against the law.
- Scammers say they’re from a government agency, nonprofit group, or some other organization, and need payment or your personal information. Government agencies and legitimate organizations won’t ask for money to help you get a refund. They will never ask for your financial account numbers or other personal information and will not guarantee that you’ll get your money back. Anyone who does any of these things is a scammer.
- Don’t trust calls, letters, emails, or messages on social media from someone who says they can recover money you lost in a scam for a fee. You’ll lose more money.
- Never pay upfront for a refund or help with a refund. That means, never give your bank account, credit card, or other payment information to get a refund. Anyone who asks for your financial information or for upfront fees is a scammer.
- Know that only scammers will tell you to pay by gift card, cryptocurrency, or wire transfer through companies like Western Union or MoneyGram. Anyone who asks you to pay in any of these ways is a scammer.
- Be suspicious if you get a supposed refund check for more money than you lost. Some scammers will say there was an error and tell you to cash the check, keep the amount you’re due, and return the balance. It can take weeks for a bank to discover that a check it cleared was a fake. In the meantime, if you use the money, even to return some to the scammer, the bank will want you to repay that money.
- Research any organizations or government agencies that contact you. For organizations or companies, search for the name online, with words like “complaint,” “scam,” or “review.” Check with your state attorney general, too, to see if other people have complained about the organization. For government agencies, look up their number on your own. Then call to confirm that they contacted you. Don’t call a number that a caller gave you.
Scammers often ask you to pay in ways that make it tough to get your money back. If you’ve paid a scammer, the sooner you act, the better. Here are some steps to try to stop a transaction, get a transaction reversed, or get a refund.
If you’ve lost money to a refund or recovery scam, or have information about the company or scammer who called you, report it
When you report these scammers, you help law enforcement stop them and alert others in your community to the scam.