I’ve Been Scammed! Now What?

What to Do If You Are the Victim of a Work-At-Home Scam

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••• Peter Dazeley | Getty Images

Working at home is something everyone can do, if they research beforehand and do the work. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers and schemers who will take your money and run if you don't take steps to protect yourself.

The best way to deal with scams is to not be a victim of one. Yes, it can be hard to know what's legitimate work at home and what's not; however, it’s up to you to research and protect yourself. Way too many people are signing up for work-at-home opportunities without reading the fine print or doing research. If you don’t want to be scammed, investigate and read all the details of the job or business before signing up!

Here are a few other tips to avoiding work-at-home scams:

  • Learn what tricks scammers use to dupe you, such as hype, pressure, fear of missing out, are that you were specially chosen.
  • Familiarize yourself with common scams, such as fake checks (avoid this by never helping a company do business through your personal bank account), envelope stuffing, assembly work, email processing, gifting programs, pyramid schemes with companies that don't have a product or service,etc.
  • Research the company with a basic Google search to see what others are saying.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau. Note that not all business are with the BBB, and if a business isn't listed with the BBB that doesn't mean it's a scam. The BBB is just one resource you can check.
  • Never pay to get hired to a job (except to pay for a background check). Legitimate employers never charge to hire you.

However, if it’s too late and you’re the victim of a scam, here are some things to do:

Have You Been Scammed?

Before you accuse a company or person of scamming you, make sure you really were scammed, and not just the victim of bad service or a misunderstanding. Many scam complaints are from people who aren’t actually victims of a scam. One direct sales company has several complaints about sending products to reps without them having been ordered. However, if the complainants had read the contract, they'd know the company had an autoship program. That’s not a scam.

Other times, mistakes and glitches happen that prevent the delivery or execution of products or a program. But if it’s a mistake or glitch, it’s not a scam and instead, something you need to get the company to resolve.

So before you cry "foul," make sure that the company or person in question has actually scammed you and it's not just an error or misunderstanding.

Getting Your Money Back

Unfortunately, getting money back from a scammer is nearly impossible. However, if it's not a scam or you're not sure and you want to try to get your money back, before you report the company, here are steps you can take to get a refund.

1) Gather all your contracts, payment receipts, bank statements, and any other contact (i.e. email) you had with the company. That means you must always save this type of information. This sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't keep this information. You can't get help or a refund, or file a complaint if you have no proof of your purchase. Saving your documents has other benefits, such as your proof of purchase can be a receipt for a tax deduction if it’s related to starting your home business.

These documents should have contact information, refund policies, and other information you need to seek recourse.

2) Contact the company to request a refund. If you want your money back, the best way to make that happen is through the company you bought from. Reporting the business to the authorities might result in an investigation, but law enforcement and consumer protection agencies won’t help you get your money back.

If an email and phone call to the company in question doesn't work (remember to document all the contacts you made), send a certified letter with a return receipt so you have proof that your letter was received on the other end.   

If the company fails to respond to your requests, you can try the following to get your money back.

3) Contact your bank or credit card company to report the problem. Each institution has its own rules about what it constitute as fraud. Check your bank and credit cards' policies about fraud as many have protection programs. Many financial institutions will refund your money if it determines you were the victim of a fraud.

If you’re concerned you’ll continue to get billed by the company, your best option is to close the account.

Reporting the Scam

If you’ve been scammed, you probably won’t get your money back; but you can take action that can lead to stopping the scammer. Here’s how.

1) Contact the State Attorney General’s Office or the Secretary of State in the state the company is located in to report the fraud. Even if you live in a different state, contact the state that the company is doing business in. You can do a Google search with the state’s name and “Attorney General’s Office.” For example, “New Jersey Attorney General’s Office.”

2) File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC won’t be able to resolve your specific dispute, but if there are others who are filing the same complaint, it can investigate the prosecute the scammers.

3) If the scam occurred through a phone call or the Internet, contact the National Fraud Center (NFIC) to file a complaint. Like the FTC, it can’t get your money back on your behalf, but it will forward the complaint to the proper authorities.

4) File a complaint at the Better Business Bureau in the location the company does business in. A company doesn't need to be listed at the BBB for you to leave complaint. This can help because people who search the BBB for information can see the complaint and the BBB may contact the company on your behalf and record any attempt made to solve your complaint.

5) If the scam used the U.S. Postal Service, you can contact your local postmaster or online to report the scam. For example, envelope stuffing would be a scam to report to the U.S. Post Office.

6) Contact your local authorities. Depending on the scam, the local police may not be able to help, but often the news of the scam gets reported so that others can avoid getting duped. In some localities the police will notify news outlets to warn others of the scam.