Scammers are criminals who masquerade as legitimate businesses. Be careful; they’re not.
You’ve tried to telephone and email the seller. But the phone is disconnected, the emails bounce, or they never answer. Or they make excuses and empty promises that delay you until their refund deadline has passed.
It’s dawned on you that they have your money and they aim to keep it. So you’re going to fight them. Good for you! But expect them to do everything this side of the law, and what they think they can get away with on the other side, to make you give up.
Prepare for battle
- Act and follow up quickly. Every day that passes lessens your chance of getting a refund.
- Beware. They may try to trick you into delaying until you can’t get your money back from your credit card issuer, or the refund period date in their Terms and Conditions expires. One trick is fake shipment tracking numbers. Another trick is a fake, official-looking notice that you’ve been credited with a refund.
- Keep a dated list of each action you take and each response from the scammer. Keep copies of all correspondence, and take notes during each phonecall. You may need this information as evidence at some point.
- Brace yourself. This isn’t going to be a quick or easy process. And despite everything you try, you may never get your money back. if not, chalk it up to education; you’re less likely to get conned out of your life savings.
Have a strategy
To get your money back and avoid future problems, I suggest you follow the strategy shown in this chart. In the following paragraphs I’ll explain the strategy in more detail.
1: Read the scam site’s Terms and Conditions (T&Cs). Nearly all scam sites have T&Cs tucked away in some corner. I’ve seen some that go to great lengths to hide them. But omitting them is rare; I think some federal law requires them.
You may have to work a bit to understand them. In other posts, I’ve summarized scammer T&Cs. Don’t go by my summaries at this point; do your own homework. What to look for:
- Guarantee terms
- Club membership, subscription, auto-ship, etc. terms
- Cancellation terms
- Refund terms
- How to return products
If you see that you don’t qualify for a return or refund, don’t give up. Scammer T&Cs are usually blatantly unfair. That may give you leverage with the State Attorney General or Better Business Bureau.
Were you charged without ordering anything?
2: Monthly charges for a “discount club,” automatic product reorders (“auto-ship”) or other mysterious services show up in your statement. They may seem to be (or may actually be) charges by companies you never heard of.
Once some scammers learn your credit card data, they’ll use it again and again. How this can happen:
- You order one item, and suppose you’re done with that company.
- You only think about ordering an item. You fill in your credit card data. Then you change your mind, and leave the web page or close the browser tab. But even tho you never click “Process” the web page sends your credit card data to the scammer anyway.
- Oh no! Your credit card has been hacked. The scammer may have bought your data on the black market.
What to do:
- Try to contact the company. Cancel the club membership, etc. and ask for a refund.
- If you get no response or they put you off, call your bank. Ask them to reverse the credit card charge, block your credit card and issue you a new credit card.
How to reverse the charge: Call the bank’s Fraud Department. Ask them to reverse the scammer’s charges. The bank may initiate a dispute procedure with the scammer. There’s a good chance that the scammer will let go of the money without a fight, figuring that going after other suckers is a better use of their time.
Some scammers include a term in their Terms Of Service that says they treat reversing the charge as theft. Don’t be frightened by this term; remember that they’re the real thieves. Besides, they aren’t going to bother suing you for the $100 or so that scammers typically steal.
How to block your credit card: Ask the Fraud Department to block your credit card (to stop the scammer from stealing even more). This will also block all other outstanding and future transactions on the credit card.
Request a new credit card. The scammer can’t steal from you if they don’t have your active credit card number. You’ll have to move any scheduled or automatic payments that you’ve set up on your old card over to the new card yourself. Yes, pain! Removing a credit thief is worse than removing a tick.
Cancel your order
3: If you haven’t received the product, this is good; the bank that issued your credit card is more likely to agree to reverse the charge. Now you have a choice to make:
- Choice A (best strategy): Reverse the charge, then cancel the order. Tell the scammer you’ve reversed the charge, so you don’t need a refund. This method is the best choice for your interests. But the bank may tell you to try to resolve your problem with the scammer first. Here’s where your correspondence list and copies may be useful, as proof that you already made a good-faith effort to deal with the scammer.
- Choice B: Cancel the order, then reverse the charge. This method is risky. One respondent told me that, upon receiving his cancellation request, the company shipped the product. They told the bank that they’d shipped it a week before they actually had. Then the bank refused to reverse the charge, reasoning that he’d received what he’d purchased.
- Choice C: Cancel the order and hope that the scammer will refund your money. This choice means you still trust the scammer; think about that before going on.
How to reverse the charge: I’ve explained this above.
How to cancel the order: Notify the scammer that you are canceling your order. If you can’t contact them quickly, don’t wait. Send them a certified letter with return receipt, canceling the order. (This is a service of the US Post Office. If you or the seller are located in another country, you’ll need to research local postal services that are similar.) This way, you’ll have proof of the date they received your cancellation request. Refuse to accept any packages you receive from the company, and return them unopened.
Get a refund
4: If you received the product, return it per the T&C instructions (or if you can’t do that, just return it) and ask for a refund. Don’t use it, not even once. Don’t even open the package. If you did use it, put all of its parts back in the original packaging and return it. This way, the scammer can shrug you off and sell it to somebody else. Choose to hope the scammer gives your money back, or to try to reverse the charge on your credit card (see above).
How to return the product: In the US, use Priority Mail or a similar package shipping service that provides package tracking. I’ve seen several complaints that the scammer claimed they didn’t receive the returned item and so refused to give a refund. This way, you have proof that they received the item.
5: If you didn’t block your credit card and get a new one, watch your credit card account for more unauthorized charges, particularly $8 to $20 charges by companies you don’t recognize, for services you don’t remember ordering. Keep in mind that you’re dealing with criminals, not a legitimate business. If you merely complain to their “Customer Support” but keep your credit card active, they may steal again. They may also sell your credit card data on the black market for other thieves to use.
If none of this is working for you, reach out for help. The Federal Trade Commission has published an advisory, “How to report online shopping fraud.”
- Warn your friends.
- Name-shame the company on forums and social media. Another good outlet is PissedConsumer.com .
- Blog about web scammers. Link to other blogs about scamming, like this one.
- Send me a message or reply.
Are you embarassed about your gullibility? That’s just how the scammers want you to feel. Be strong and stop others from falling into their trap. Nobody is going to think less of you for saving them money and grief; there’s no credibility like experience.
Sincerely: Good luck!