I compiled this guide after working in law offices, working on the internet on my own, and now as a law enforcement training coordinator. It has been stickied on about a 1/2 dozen forums, and it seems to be well-received. Here it is, just let me know if there are any questions.
This information is good not just here on this site, but also on eBay and other auction sites, other forums and, bulletin boards.
Okay, here is what I would do:
First, as a general rule for dealings on the Internet, keep copies of EVERYTHING- emails, PayPal receipts, money order stubs, everything! Second, be aware that steps 1 and 2 can involve a lot of back and forth between them, depending on the method of payment.
Inform the Financial Institutions and websites involved.
If you paid by money order place a complaint AND a trace on the money order with the company that sold it (western union, USPS, etc.). Make sure it was cashed. Find out WHERE it was cashed. The same goes for a check, whether issued by a bank or a personal check.
If you paid by PayPal, go to the PayPal website at www.paypal.com
and look for the complaint process. PayPal Buyer Complaint Info Page
Next, Review the Buyer Complaint Process
and fill out a "Buyer Complaint Form" through the Security Center
. If you are logged in on the PayPal site, it may take you to a different site than these links. You must be logged in to fill out the form.
If it was on eBay or another auction site, look for the "Safe Harbor" clause or provisions in the user agreement. Try the "help" icons and search for "fraud" or "safe harbor" in the FAQs or Help sections.
Here is the General Help Page for eBay: General Help- eBay
. Here is the Fraud Protection Information: Fraud Protection Information- eBay
Most other auction sites have similar policies. I use eBay as an example because I, like many of you, use it frequently.
Most forums are like this one: Buyer Beware. While you may get moderator assistance to get IP information, login frequency, and other contact info, in most cases nothing can be done.
One other thing to look into is the fact that eBay and PayPal are now one company. While before they would play one off of the other as to whose responsibility it was, they can no longer do that safely, as statements of one could be used against the other. This should, at least in theory, cut down on passing of the buck between the two, a common thing in the past.
Your bank or credit card can also be a powerful ally. While not necessarily bound to help you if you used PayPal, most of the time the fraud protection issued by your credit card company can help get to the root of a problem. Remember, you credit card can even file a complaint with PayPal if PayPal won't do anything to help you, because, as far as the credit card is concerned, PayPal took your money. THey don't care what PayPal did with it, they just know that it was PayPal that billed you. Your bank can do the same. Your bank will be more likely to give you personal service, but your credit card company has more clout. Use both to your advantage.
If you paid by check, or money order issued by the bank, or by bank card (ATM/Debit Card) directly, the bank should get involved. My PayPal account ACCEPTS Credit/Debit cards. If someone were to pay me that way directly (not through "PayPal" funds), their bank or credit card company could come after me directly (if I tried to shank them). I have helped people get money back through PayPal this way.
Inform the Authorities.
If you sent payment in any form, whether check, Money Order (Postal or other), cashier’s check, or cash (NEVER SEND CASH!!!) through the mail, file a complaint at your local post office. Here is a link to the mail fraud reporting form:
Mail Fraud Complaint Form
It is a federal crime (mail fraud), so they should know the drill. Get the manager of your local post office to give you the name of the post office that is local to the recipient (where HIS/HER mail gets routed through prior to delivery). Here is a link to the USPS Postal Inspectors' website: USPS Fraud Protection Website
Here is a link to the USPS web site. It has a "finder" feature to locate post offices anywhere, including contact information:
Call the endpoint post office and file a claim. Call the local police or sheriffs office and file a criminal complaint using the information from the postal complaint form. Local police numbers can be found through most Internet directories. I have found that www.anywho.com
works the best for me. Most of the time, the post office can even give you that information. If not, your local police can do so.
Involve the BIG DOGS.
Your next step is to go to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center website. The IFCC is located in my old hometown of Morgantown, WV (Go Mountaineers!!!).
IFCC is a joint venture between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) that is designed to cross the jurisdictional restrictions that internet commerce presents. They have broad jurisdiction AND enlist the assistance of local law enforcement to track down frauds and scams that are performed using the Internet as a media.
Here is a link to the website:
Internet Fraud Complaint Center Website
On the left hand side is the fraud complaint process and the forms. They require copies of past correspondence and documentation, and will use this information to CRIMINALLY prosecute violators. This does not help you directly, as your claim will be civil (not criminal), but this makes it easier for you to recover your money, because restitution is often a component of sentencing in fraud cases.
These guys don't fool around. They jail people. They seize things, close accounts, freeze assets. They get the job done.
An additional resource for information related to the use of more formal complaint procedures is the National Fraud Information Center. I have posted some of their tips at the very bottom of this post. Check them out for a better idea of what to look for on the 'net.
Here is their website: National Fraud Information Center
. On the site there are several useful tools to combat fraud, including their online incident reporting form, found here: National Fraud Information Center Online Incident Report Form
and a link to more basic information related to internet fraud, found here: NFIC Internet Fraud Information
EDIT: ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS-
If you attend a college or university, most have an office of legal services or something similar. I used to work for the one at West Virginia University when I was in grad school. Basically, we did everything that a normal law office does, including dealing with these matters. I was the one who dealt with Internet fraud, which is why I know what I know. I would find people and figure out how to serve them (in the legal sense), follow up with local law enforcement, and deal with banks, eBay, PayPal, whoever, all on the behalf of the students. We did free representation, and most universities offer this service to students. In know that a lot of schools do this, because when the scammer or @$$hole that screwed one of my clients over was a student somewhere else, I would usually just call the university and talk to their legal services department. I was surprised to see that most universities have either an office like where I worked OR had lawyers that volunteered to help on certain days of the week. This is an option for you guys to check out if you are in college.
Try the directory for entries of Legal Services, Legal Aid, Student Legal Aid, Student Legal Services, Student Counsel (not Council), or even try calling the law school (if your school has one). WVU had a law school, but my office was not linked to it (except that law students usually work there). If nothing else, try the offices of student life or student affairs. I hope that this helps.
I will add to this as I come up with new stuff. Email me (firstname.lastname@example.org
) or PM me if you need more help or info. I will be happy to assist you to the best of my ability, but no promises. Let me know about dead links and incorrect information, especially if you are a police officer or lawyer and I have screwed something up.
Here is a link to the tips from the National Fraud Information Center:
GREAT TIPS FOR INTERNET TRANSACTIONS--- READ THESE!!!
UPDATE: I have posted this on several other forums (all of them have stickied it), so IF YOU ARE ON ANY OTHER FORUM AND WANT THIS POSTED, PLEASE CONTACT ME FOR THE HTML VERSION OF THE POST. THIS WILL ENSURE THAT THE LINKS ARE PRESERVED!!! I will GLADLY give anyone the right to post this on ANY forum.
Here is the text from the NFIC website regarding general tips for internet transactions:
(Note- the following is not my own work, but is instead taken from the website of the National Fraud Information Center, and is reproduced here for reference ONLY!)
Know who you’re dealing with.
If the seller or charity is unfamiliar, check with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau. Some Web sites have feedback forums, which can provide useful information about other people’s experiences with particular sellers. Get the physical address and phone number in case there is a problem later.
Look for information about how complaints are handled.
It can be difficult to resolve complaints, especially if the seller or charity is located in another country. Look on the Web site for information about programs the company or organization participates in that require it to meet standards for reliability and help to handle disputes.
Be aware that no complaints is no guarantee.
Fraudulent operators open and close quickly, so the fact that no one has made a complaint yet doesn’t meant that the seller or charity is legitimate. You still need to look for other danger signs of fraud.
Don’t believe promises of easy money.
If someone claims that you can earn money with little or no work, get a loan or credit card even if you have bad credit, or make money on an investment with little or no risk, it’s probably a scam.
Understand the offer.
A legitimate seller will give you all the details about the products or services, the total price, the delivery time, the refund and cancellation policies, and the terms of any warranty. For more information about shopping safely online, go to www.nclnet.org/shoppingonline.
Legitimate companies and charities will be happy to give you time to make a decision. It’s probably a scam if they demand that you act immediately or won’t take “No” for an answer.
Think twice before entering contests operated by unfamiliar companies.
Fraudulent marketers sometimes use contest entry forms to identify potential victims.
Be cautious about unsolicited emails.
They are often fraudulent. If you are familiar with the company or charity that sent you the email and you don’t want to receive further messages, send a reply asking to be removed from the email list. However, responding to unknown senders may simply verify that yours is a working email address and result in even more unwanted messages from strangers. The best approach may simply be to delete the email.
Beware of imposters.
Someone might send you an email pretending to be connected with a business or charity, or create a Web site that looks just like that of a well-known company or charitable organization. If you’re not sure that you’re dealing with the real thing, find another way to contact the legitimate business or charity and ask.
Guard your personal information.
Don’t provide your credit card or bank account number unless you are actually paying for something. Your social security number should not be necessary unless you are applying for credit. Be especially suspicious if someone claiming to be from a company with whom you have an account asks for information that the business already has.
Beware of “dangerous downloads.”
In downloading programs to see pictures, hear music, play games, etc., you could download a virus that wipes out your computer files or connects your modem to a foreign telephone number, resulting in expensive phone charges. Only download programs from Web sites you know and trust. Read all user agreements carefully.
Pay the safest way.
Credit cards are the safest way to pay for online purchases because you can dispute the charges if you never get the goods or services or the offer was misrepresented. Federal law limits your liability to $50 if someone makes unauthorized charges to your account, and most credit card issuers will remove them completely if you report the problem promptly. There are new technologies, such as “substitute” credit card numbers and password programs, that can offer extra measures of protection from someone else using your credit card. For more information about paying safely online, go to www.nclnet.org/shoppingonline