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/ (click on "Where to File a Complaint" and "State Offices").
Unfortunately, government agencies are rarely able to get 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 (BBB) may be able to mediate your dispute with the business. (To find your local BB office, visit the BBB website at www.bbb.org.)
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 on writing a letter, read Nolo's article Demand Letters: The Basics. For more information about suing in small claims court, visit Nolo's Small Claims Court area. For a legal primer that shows you how to build your case, present evidence, and what to expect in small claims court, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court, by Ralph Warner (Nolo).