Money Matters: When scam busters are too late

Education Resources, Finance 411,

We’ve written before about how you can help your audience avoid common scams during tax time, particularly, this year, by filing early following several major data breaches leaving consumers’ personal information at risk.

But what about when it’s too late?

Recently, the Justice Department sentenced 24 people in the U.S. on charges relating to a four-year-long IRS and immigration scam. Between 2012 and 2016, more than 15,000 victims lost money in the fraud, and many more may have had their personal information compromised. Hundreds of millions of dollars were lost when scammers claimed to be IRS or immigration agents and demanded bogus payments, often in the form of prepaid credit or gift cards.

It’s one thing to help consumers avoid scams like this: Don’t reveal personal information to callers claiming to be from the IRS and know that the IRS will not threaten to send law enforcement for failure to pay.

But what can consumers do after falling victim?

  • If the scam involves impersonating the IRS, file a report with the IRS here, including how much you lost and details of the scammer. Reporting the scam helps track and catch scammers, which as the recent bust shows, can be massive operations.
  • The Federal Trade Commission also investigates fraud, identity theft and other consumer issues. In addition to providing resources about how to prevent fraud, the FTC can provide information about what to do after falling victim to fraud, and reports are used to assist in legal cases.
  • If a case is brought against scammers to whom you’ve sent money, there may be an order for restitution. Complainants would need to file a claim, usually within a given period.
  • Sometimes con artists request payment by wire transfer. Luckily, most wire transfer services are aware of this practice and have fraud hotlines.
  • Consult with your state and local law enforcement agencies about local reporting options.

This story is a good one to localize. Ask your audience to tell you if they have paid a scammer recently, then follow up by highlighting a case as you help walk through the steps of what to do next. You can also investigate questions victims of cons may have: How many people fall victim each year? In what percentage of cases are scammers caught and restitution paid? What are the benefits of reporting scams?

Try this story idea, one from our growing list or your own and submit it for a chance to cash in yourself!

Weekly Money Matters personal finance content for your newsroom is sponsored by the National Endowment for Financial Education