Whether on the internet or on your doorstep, scam artists can hit you anywhere. If you've been the victim of fraud, you're not alone. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 1.3 million fraud reports, representing a total of $744 million paid to scammers.
If you even suspect you've been taken in by a scam artist, the best thing is to report the activity as soon as possible. Start local, and go all the way up to the federal level if necessary. The faster you act, the more likely law enforcement will be to track down the suspect. Early reporting also gives you a better chance of recovering your property.
Gathering Information to Build Your Case
Before you start filing a complaint, pull together all the documents and information you have about the fraud or scam. If the scam artist sent you emails, make copies of them. If you sent the person any money, get bank statements that show the transactions. You want anything and everything you have that is related to the incident. However, don't hold off reporting fraud just because you think you don't have enough information. Any information you have will be valuable.
Draft a basic timeline of the incident; this may help you make a more concise statement. If you fell victim to an email scam, the person likely sent you more than one email. Starting with the first one, write a brief summary of the communication after the date. Include all communication and transaction details.
If credit cards or bank accounts were involved, write down your account numbers and have those handy. You may want to contact the bank or credit card company to alert them that you were a victim of fraud. However, keep in mind that they often want a police report before they'll take any action.
If you decide to hire an attorney, provide all your information to her, keeping copies for yourself.
Reporting to Local Law Enforcement
As soon as possible after you suspect fraudulent activity, contact your local police department and ask to file a police report. In most cases, you shouldn't call 911. Call the police non-emergency number or visit the police station in person unless you actually feel as though your life or physical well-being is threatened.
Sometimes local law enforcement will be reluctant to create a report if the incident wasn't local. Insist that the officer create a written report for you, as you may need it when dealing with other agencies or companies. For example, if the incident involved funds from your bank account, your bank may want a copy of the police report.
In the event the scam artist you encountered was local, a police officer may want to follow up with you to get more information as your report is investigated. If a suspect is arrested, you may also be called to identify the person or to talk to a prosecutor about your experience.
Reporting to Your State Attorney General
Each state attorney general's office has a consumer protection division that takes reports of fraud and scam artists. Typically you can file a complaint online, but you may want to go to a local office if you have documents you want them to review. You can also mail a complaint along with copies of relevant documents.
Follow your outline and notes to file the complaint, giving them as many details as possible so they can investigate the matter. You may receive a phone call from a state attorney asking for more information. Make sure you include contact information with your complaint so staff can reach you if they have any questions or need additional details about the incident.
Reporting to the Federal Government
You can also report scam artists and fraudulent activity to the federal government. The FBI runs the Internet Crime Complaint Center, where you can file an online report that will be investigated by the FBI or forwarded to the relevant federal agency. This website only deals with incidents that occurred online. However, other federal agencies take reports dealing with other incidents of fraud.
The FTC takes complaints dealing with scams and fraud generally and will forward your complaint to the relevant agency if it doesn't fall within the scope of matters that agency typically investigates. If you can't figure out which agency to submit your report to, you can start there.
If the fraudulent activity involved anything being mailed, you can report the activity to the U.S. Postal Service. If you dealt with someone pretending to be a tax collector, report him to the IRS. You can report Medicare or Social Security fraud to those agencies directly.
Protecting Your Accounts and Records
After a brush with fraud, you'll understandably be paranoid and uneasy. You may find yourself reluctant to do things you normally had no problem doing. Take proactive steps to protect your hard-earned money and your identity from theft and fraud. Change all your passwords to different things for every website, and change your home Wi-Fi password.
If you receive an email or phone call from someone claiming to be a government employee, bill collector, bank representative or the like, don't give the person any personal information until you can verify that he is who he says he is. The easiest way to do this is to directly contact the agency or company he claims to represent. Call the customer service line and explain you've been contacted by someone who claims to work there. If it is a fraud, they'll help you shut it down.
If any of your credit cards or bank accounts were compromised as a result of your brush with the scam artist, have the card cancelled immediately and a new one sent. If she got personal information from you, such as your Social Security number, you might also consider putting a fraud alert on your credit report so she can't open any new accounts in your name. All of this can take some time and effort, but the more secure your information is, the less likely you will become a victim again.
Report fraud and scam artists to local law enforcement, your state attorney general and the FBI. If the fraudulent activity occurred on the internet, you can file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Jennifer Mueller has a J.D. from the University of Indiana, Maurer School of Law. She has been sharing her legal knowledge on the internet since 2009. Mueller has been published in the Indiana Law Journal, and her writing appears on legal websites such as LegalZoom.