Consumer Scams FAQ


What to do if you've been the victim of a fraud or scam.

What's Below:

I think I was the victim of a scam. Can I get my money back?

How can I file a complaint for fraud?

I received something in the mail that I never ordered. Do I have to pay for it?

I think I was the victim of a scam. Can I get my money back?

Federal and state laws prohibit unfair or deceptive trade acts or practices. If you think you've been cheated, immediately let the appropriate government offices know. These agencies often have the resources to go after unscrupulous merchants. Law enforcement in the consumer fraud area is poor in some parts of the country, but many hardworking investigators do their jobs superbly. The more agencies you notify, the more likely someone will take notice of your complaint and act on it.

To find the consumer protection office in your state, county or city, visit the federal consumer action website (of the Federal Citizen Information Center) at http://consumeraction.gov/state.shtml.

Unfortunately, government agencies are rarely able to get you your money back. However, some large metropolitan areas sponsor mediation programs that help resolve problems between consumers and businesses. If the business has a license (a contractor, for example), try calling the state agency that licenses it to see if they can help resolve the dispute. Also, a local Better Business Bureau may be able to mediate your dispute with the business.

Another way to get relief is to bring a lawsuit against the seller in small claims court. This may not be feasible unless the seller is local. If you plan to sue, first send a demand letter explaining the problem and asking for your money back. Many states require such a letter before you sue. For more information about suing in small claims court, visit Nolo's Small Claims Court Resource Center.

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How can I file a complaint for fraud?

The National Fraud Information Center can help you if you've been defrauded. NFIC provides:

  • assistance in filing a complaint with appropriate federal agencies
  • recorded information on current fraud schemes
  • tips on how to avoid becoming a fraud victim, and
  • direct ordering of consumer publications in English or Spanish.

You can contact NFIC at 800-876-7060 or visit its website at www.fraud.org.

Contact your local prosecutor to find out if it investigates consumer fraud complaints. Your state consumer protection agency can also provide advice. Finally, contact any local action line at the local newspaper, radio station, or television station. Especially in metropolitan areas, these folks often have an army of volunteers ready to pursue consumer complaints.

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I received something in the mail that I never ordered. Do I have to pay for it?

You don't owe any money if you receive an item you never ordered -- it's considered a gift. If you get bills or collection letters from a seller who sent you something you never ordered, write to the seller stating your intention to treat the item as a gift. If the bills continue, insist that the seller send you proof of your order. If this doesn't stop the bills, notify the state consumer protection agency in the state where the merchant is located. You can also complain about mail fraud to your local U.S. Attorney's office and the local postal inspector.

If you sent for something in response to an advertisement claiming a free gift or trial period, but are now being billed, be sure to read the fine print of the ad. It may say something about charging shipping and handling, or worse, you may have inadvertently joined a club or subscribed to a magazine. Write the seller to:

  • offer to return the merchandise
  • cancel any club membership or magazine subscription you don't want
  • ask the seller to take your name off any mailing list, and
  • state that you believe the ad was misleading.

If charges show up on your credit card statement, call and then write the credit card issuer. Tell it that:

  • you do not authorize any further charges for the club or magazine
  • you have cancelled the membership or subscription, and
  • the ad was misleading and you did not knowingly join or subscribe.

Send the letter to the address specified by the card issuer for disputed charges (most likely on your monthly billing statement).

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