How much money can you get back if you’ve been the victim of an online scam? If you’ve been involved in an online scam, cryptocurrency scam, or another investment scam, how much money can you actually recover?

Here’s an important article from the law firm Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, that discusses a recent court decision regarding loss recovery from scams. We’re not attorneys and this article is not legal advice, but this is something we see frequently in our investigations and asset searches. The article explains that a third circuit court gave a definition of a loss, which is a win for the defendants, meaning the criminals. And it’s considered to be a win for the defendant because the definition of a loss does not include intended loss, according to this third circuit court. 

For example, suppose you were the victim of an investment scam online. The scammer tells you to send them $10,000 to invest, you send them the money, then they send you fake account statements that look like your investment is growing rapidly. Now they say you have $18,000 in your account and to send them another $10,000. After receiving the next $10K, they’ll show you another fake account statement saying your investment grew even more and is now up to $52,000. As scammers do, they’ll ask again for another $10,000, but now, you might start to get nervous and realize it’s a scam. When you go to recover your funds, are you going to get the full $52,000 from the account statement, or is it just the $20,000 you sent?

Well, according to the court, the recoverable amount would be the $20,000 that was sent, nothing more. There was never actually $52,000, this number was made up by the scammer to manipulate you into continuing to send more money. That money never actually existed, only your $20,000 existed. Additionally, you can’t recover other costs like missed investment opportunities. This mostly has to do with the sentencing of criminals, but it helps provide the victim with an idea of what to expect with recovery. Now, there are some exceptions. In one case, a sixth circuit court said that a minimum loss of $500 must apply to every gift card stolen by the defendant, regardless of the actual harm or amount on the card. 

This decision also takes away a tool that prosecutors often use. If a loss is only defined by an actual loss, then conspiracy counts may no longer be the heavy hammer that it once was. Prosecutors may not be able to do as much with conspiracy counts if the loss only goes by intended loss, and not falsified inflated profits. 

So if you’re a victim of an online scam, be aware that the amount you can recover is only the amount that you sent to them, not the amount that they said you made, which was a fake account statement anyway.

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