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Consumer Scams FAQ

I think I've been the victim of a scam, what should I do ?

Consumer scams come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. If you believe you've been the victim of unfair or deceptive business practices, you should contact a consumer protection office in your area. These offices not only contain information about ongoing consumer scams but also provide a variety of services such as investigating and prosecuting scammers according to criminal law.

In addition to your state agency, you may also want to contact relevant federal agencies, such as www.consumeraction.gov or even the FBI, depending on the type of fraud.

Can I get my money back?

It is unlikely that you can get your money back in most consumer scams, but there are some notable exceptions:

  • If you paid with your credit or debit card, you may be able to dispute the charges with your bank.
  • If the fraud involved a charge to your phone bill, you can often dispute the charge with the telephone company.
  • Many online auction sites have insurance that covers fraudulent transactions, so contact the online auction site to report the fraud and dispute the charge.
  • Law enforcement agencies sometimes take legal action and if so, you may be entitled to some of the recovery.
  • You can always try to sue the scammer in court or small claims court, but even if you get a judgment, it may be almost impossible to collect on that judgment.

Where do I file a fraud complaint?

In addition to applicable government agencies, many nonprofits, such as the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org and sites such as www.fraud.org, can assist you in determining how to best register complaints regarding consumer scams. Fraud.org will let you fill out a fraud complaint, and then it will handle forwarding it to all of the appropriate agencies.

Finally, local sources such as your local prosecutor, newspaper, radio station, or television station may be able to help you. Many of these local sources have dedicated resources to help protect local citizens against consumer scams.

Something came for me in the mail that I never ordered; do I have to pay for it?

No, you do not have to pay for anything you didn't order. If the seller sends bills or collection letters, write the seller informing them that you never purchased such an item and can either treat it as a gift or return it to them if they cover shipping. If the seller still insists, ask the seller to send proof that you ordered the item. If the seller does not relent, notify your state consumer protection agency.

Be careful, however, that you didn't inadvertently sign up for something that was claimed to be "free" or for a "trial" but is now being billed. Often, sellers hide terms like this in the fine print, and many "clubs" that you can join operate this way. If this happens:

  • Cancel any membership
  • Offer to return the item
  • Demand that the seller take your name off of any mailing list
  • Let the seller know that you think their ad was deceptive and misleading

What are some of the most common consumer scams?

The Better Business Bureau regularly releases a list of the top scams of the year, and here is a top ten list of consumer scams in the US:

  • Supplement and related "free trial" offers
  • Government grant and stimulus money offers
  • Robocalls (automated telephone advertisements)
  • Lottery/sweepstakes scams
  • Job hunter scams
  • Internet-based work from home scams
  • Mortgage assistance scams
  • Shopping scams (a fake check is given for you to go spend)
  • Over-payment scams (scammer writes a fake check for more than the amount due and asks you to wire the difference)
  • Phishing emails
Next Steps
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with the
hazards and stress accompanying identity theft and online scams.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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