Online Scams

What to do when you fall for an email scam

Authored by a Symantec employee


Falling for an email scam is something that can happen to anyone. It’s a frightening concept, and one that frequently results in undiluted panic. Also known as a phishing scam, an email scam involves using email and fraudulent websites to steal sensitive information such as passwords, credit card numbers, account data, addresses, and more.

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Fraudulent emails are crafted to appear legitimate, such as messages from your bank or another trusted source. They request personal information, which criminals then use for identity theft.

So what should you do if you find yourself a victim of an email scam?

Change Passwords

If you’ve clicked the wrong link or provided personal information in response to a phishing scam, change your passwords immediately. This goes for email and all accounts, including bank accounts and PIN numbers. Create strong, complicated, new passwords that feature a confusing slew of numbers and symbols. Such passwords are much, much harder for cybercriminals to break.

Notify Credit Agencies

Contact one of the three major credit bureaus as soon as possible and let themknow your account was potentially compromised. Place a fraud alert on your account until the issue has been resolved.

Contact Credit Card Companies

Alert credit card companies and explain the situation. Your credit cards might not have been used yet, but if you feel unauthorized charges are in your future, it’s essential to freeze or cancel your cards. Let your bank know what happened so they can further protect your credit line.

Update Your Software

Update your software to the newest version and run a comprehensive virus scan if you think you’ve infected your system with a virus or other malware. Additionally, you should use encryption, ensure you have a firewall enabled, and regularly back up personal information on an external hard drive. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks whenever possible, and if you must use a public connection, select the most secure option, such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Also, make certain to turn your computer off when not in use, as it’s inaccessible to hackers when powered down.

Check Accounts Regularly

Review your bank and credit card accounts regularly to be sure no suspicious activity is taking place. You may also opt to leave the fraud alert on your credit report for a while until you’re absolutely certain you’re out of the proverbial hot water.

Reporting Resources

Numerous resources are available for reporting an email scam, including the National Fraud Information Center. This companyreports fraudulent activity to the federal government and maintains detailed records of fraud incidents. They also provide links concerning whom you can contact within your state for assistance.

Other helpful resources include:

Internet Crime Complaint Center: The FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center run a site called the Internet Crime Complaint Center. It features many tips and other helpful information about avoiding email scams and what to do if you fall victim to one. It also offers a link for filing a claim against a third party who stole your identity or made an attempt. U.S. Department of Justice: The U.S. Department of Justice runs websites that allow you to file email scam complaints. The site also features plenty of helpful tips and advice. National Consumer’s League: This site can help you file a complaint and provides information on how to avoid fraud. Better Business Bureau: The BBB makes it possible to alert others to what happened to you so they don’t fall for the same scams.

Stay proactive until you’re absolutely certain fraud-related problems have subsided, and know what to look for in the future. The more you educate yourself on phishing and other Internet scams, the less likely it is such problems will occur.

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Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Norton LifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.

Norton by Symantec is now Norton LifeLock. LifeLock™ identity theft protection is not available in all countries.

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