Consumer Scams FAQ

If you've been the victim of a consumer fraud or scam, learn what to do.

Updated by , Attorney · University of Denver Sturm College of Law

How can I file a complaint for fraud?

If you've been scammed, you can file a complaint in several ways:

The National Consumer League's Fraud Center. This organization can help if you've encountered fraud, like telemarketing or Internet fraud, among others. It provides information on how to prevent scams and you can file a complaint. The Center collects complaints from consumers and shares them with its network of 100 law enforcement partners across the U.S. and Canada, as well as the Federal Trade Commission. You can get information on the Fraud Center's website at

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can file a fraud complaint with the FTC by going to and clicking on "File a Consumer Complaint." Complaints help the FTC track scams nationwide. If the FTC receives many complaints regarding one bad actor, it might take action. The FTC website also has information on how to protect yourself from scams.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). If you're having a problem with a financial product or service, you may file a complaint online with the CFPB. The CFPB will forward it to the company and work to get you a response, typically within about 15 days.

State Consumer Protection Agency. Your state or local consumer protection agency might be able to help if you've been scammed. To find your local agency, see State Consumer Protection Offices.

State Prosecutor. Contact your local prosecution office and find out if it investigates consumer fraud complaints.

Local newspaper, radio, or television stations. Many local media outlets are looking for scams and fraud stories. They might have a cadre of volunteers to pursue consumer complaints.

Keep in mind, though, that filing a complaint doesn't always mean you'll get action or results. You might have to file a lawsuit in small claims court (if the amount in question is small) or consult with an attorney.

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 might say something about charging shipping and handling, or worse, you might 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 canceled 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. (You can probably find this information on your monthly billing statement).

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 and look for "Filing a Consumer Complaint." This site includes a link to find contact information for your State Consumer Protection Office. It also provides information about how to file a complaint, steps for filing a complaint against a company, and where to file your complaint.

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.)

Another way to get relief is to bring a lawsuit against the seller in small claims court. This might 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 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 Cara O'Neill (Nolo).

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