I’ve been scammed online… what do I do?
It’s a question you wish you didn’t have to ask, but it’s a necessary one if you’ve been scammed. I’ve seen my fair share of internet scams over the years, so I know how it feels.
The good news is, I also know some practical ways you can go about getting your money back from the scammers! Here’s what you need to know…
How To Get Your Money Back From An Online Scam
There are many types of scams online. From your typical ‘get rich quick’ scams, to investment and dating scams. The list goes on and on. You name it, there’s probably a scam for it. But regardless of what type of scam you’ve fallen victim to, this guide will help you.
Here’s the five steps to getting your money back from an online scam:
- Identify exactly who you purchased from
- Read the terms and conditions of the sale carefully
- Contact the vendor in writing to request a refund
- If you get nowhere, contact your financial institution and/ or;
- Consider legal action as a last resort
Some of these steps may sound obvious, but understanding them in detail is key if you want to get your money back. Read on for the details of each step…
Step 1: Identify exactly who you purchased from
The very first, and most essential step in the process, is finding out exactly who you purchased the product or service from.
As if you didn’t already know that, right? Yep. But you might be surprised at just how many people are unsure about who exactly they purchased from.
And there’s a good reason for this confusion as I’ll now explain.
One of the main ways online companies drive sales, is through their affiliates. They pay their affiliates a commission to bring sales their way. Think of an affiliate like a “middle person” who’s goal is to generate sales for a given company.
To make this process work, behind the scenes, there’s often a third party company involved, known as an affiliate network.
This is important to understand because it means that (in some cases) you are really buying from the third party affiliate network, not the vendor.
For example, here’s the checkout page for PWM Live, a program I discovered a while back:
In this case, the actual purchase is made to ClickBetter, a third party affiliate network.
Circling back to my point… you may think you’re buying from the vendor, when in reality you’ve bought from a third party. So it’s important to look at the invoice/ receipt you received for the sale (if you got one) and try to determine WHO exactly you bought the product from.
Either the vendor directly or a third party affiliate network.
You are (generally) more likely to get your money back if you buy through an affiliate network. This is because they facilitate many product sales for many vendors, so they often have strict return policies in place to protect customers.
In any case, figure out who you bought from and note that down.
Step 2: Read the terms and conditions of the sale carefully
Once you’ve identified who you’ve purchased from, the next step is to carefully examine the fine print on their website. Specifically, you want to find their refund policy.
There should be a page on the site somewhere that outlines what you’re rights are when you purchase. In most cases you can find the ‘terms’ page at the very bottom of the website. So that’s always a good place to start your search.
This is a good way to determine how likely you are to actually obtain a refund, and what rules the company has in place. Doing this can also help you avoid hidden fees. Since it’s common practice among scams to charge a relatively small amount upfront, and charge much higher hidden fees you aren’t aware of.
Either way, knowing the terms and conditions of the sale will only help you going forward.
Step 3: Contact the vendor in writing and request a refund
At this point, you know who you’ve purchased from and have a greater understanding of the companies refund policy. Whether it’s the vendor itself or a third party affiliate network.
So it’s now time to formally request a refund via email.
The email doesn’t need to be elaborate either. You just want to state your name, date/ time of purchase, and how you paid (without giving account numbers). Then, request a full refund for the product or service you purchased.
Here’s a quick example email to show you what I mean…
Dear (company name),
I purchased (product name) on (date) using (payment type). My customer/ invoice/ receipt number is (relevant number). I am not satisfied with my purchase because (clear and concise reasons you’re not happy). I’m hereby formally requesting a refund into the account the payment was made from.
Thank you and look forward to your prompt reply.
To be clear I’m not a lawyer, so this is just an example of what I would do personally. And what I have done in the past to get a refund for sketchy ‘make money online’ offers. It contains the basic elements for any reasonable company to work with you in processing a refund. Which is all that really matters.
Another thing worth noting is that it might be wise to avoid sharing too much information in those emails. Because, let’s not forget, you’re dealing with a potential scammer. So you may want to avoid sending any credit card details, for example.
In any case, if the company does accept refund requests and you are within the acceptable time period, this should be enough to obtain a refund. If they don’t have a refund policy, or flat out refuse refunds, this step probably won’t help you. But it can still be worth contacting the company in writing so that you can prove you’ve requested a refund if need be.
Step 4: If you get nowhere, contact your financial institution
This is your best hope of getting your money back if the vendor won’t play nice, without going to court. Just how effective this will be really comes down to financial institution and the details of the scam itself.
For example, PayPal has a Purchase Protection Program that allows customers to get their money back on any purchases made within a 180 day period. There are strict guidelines as to how this works and it’s not perfect, but it does help consumers obtain a refund when they are rightfully entitled to one.
Most banks also have a dispute resolution process in place which is worth looking into. How effective this is, comes down to the individual bank and the circumstances surrounding the scam. Also, given the nature of the internet, the scammers could be located anywhere. Which means they could be operating outside of your local bank’s jurisdiction.
In any case, contacting your financial institution (whatever it may be) is worthwhile. Best case, it could help you get your money back. Worst case, you can avoid future transactions coming out of your account from the same scammer.
Step 5: Consider legal action as a last resort
If all else fails, and the amount you’ve been scammed for is substantial, it may be worth considering legal action. However, even if you do win the case, hiring an attorney might not be financially viable. Which is why some consider undertaking a class action lawsuit (suing a company as a group). If you can connect with enough people who have also been scammed from the same company, you could essentially join forces and take the company to court this way. In doing so, you share the costs of the legal representation, which can make it a viable avenue to explore.
Warning Others About Your Negative Experience
Whether you’ve been successful at getting your money back or not, you may want to warn others about your negative experience. This may not help you get your funds back, but it can help others to avoid falling into the same trap.
Either way it’s a good way to vent your frustration.
Many people rely on genuine customer reviews and oftentimes scams use fake testimonials and comments. So letting people know about what really happened, can help more than you might think.
You can do this on relevant blogs, forums, or anywhere else you can get the word out. Sites like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) or Trustpilot are good options to consider.
In fact, posting on sites like the BBB can sometimes be enough to attract the attention of the vendor and get you a refund. After all, they want to appear to be operating a legitimate company, so it’s in their best interests to respond to complaints posted on such sites.
Tips On Avoiding Online Scams In Future
You know the old saying “if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is”. Well in the online world, you can remove the ‘probably’ part. Scams are everywhere so it pays to exercise caution when buying something.
Here are a few tips on avoiding common online scams:
- Avoid anything that sounds too good to be true like the plague
- Never buy in impulse, always take the time to research a product before you buy
- Use PayPal wherever possible to ensure you can get a refund if need be
- Be careful who you give your personal info to, many scam sites sell this for a profit
- Never make transactions over the phone, they are near impossible to recover
The internet provides an excellent shopping experience for consumers. But it can also be a nightmare if you fall victim to a scam. So in this article, we covered some practical steps you can take to get your money back if you do find yourself in such a situation. Feel free to comment below if you want to share your experience or tips with others.