My Rights as a Victim of Fraud
The law is created by the courts and the
legislatures. Both attempt to be responsive to the needs of fraud
victims. However if you a dealing with a dishonest person, the remedy
you want most - the return of your money - can be elusive. Often the
perpetrator has no money but if he does, it is hidden. There are two
groups of people who can help, often simultaneously, government agencies
and private agencies including law firms.
It is important to understand that most victims of
fraud cannot recover the money that was taken because the perpetrator
will not pay a judgment if he or she is sued. Occasionally if you act
quickly, you can freeze the assets of the person who cheated you.
Sometimes there may be a responsible person who has exposed himself to
liability because of proximity to the fraud (e.g. sitting on the board
of directors or negligent supervision of an employee). Unless you can
proceed against a "deep pocket" defendant or want to spend money on
lawyers "for the principle", all you can do is to clean up the damage
and learn from the experience.
Government agencies include consumer protection, insurance and
investment (securities) enforcement divisions. The criminal enforcement
agencies may also become involved. If the perpetrator has money, we
prefer to seek a civil remedy before the criminal authorities become
involved. If the matter becomes criminal first, the perpetrators money
is spent on his legal defense while the civil case waits on the
sidelines for the criminal case to finish.
A good starting point is to contact your state's
Private remedies, not using government agencies or
criminal enforcement, are primarily effective when the perpetrator of
the fraud is a "solid" or almost solid citizen. If he or she is a
outright thief or is intentionally scamming you, the odds are not good
that you will ever recover anything. A solid citizen will usually have a
job and semi-permanent location. A "flakey" person (for example) will
not have a reliable telephone number and will seem as though she is
trying to hide. Often the perpetrator has lived his life on other
people's money and knows no other way of making a living.
claims courts in Oregon and Washington - no lawyer needed. These
courts provide easy and quick access to justice. They are inexpensive
but claims are usually limited to less than $5,000.
I think the perpetrator is a "solid" citizen.
You are fortunate, as far a fraud
victims go, but this does not mean that you will recover your loss or
that it is worth the effort. Often you can obtain a judgment through the
court system and never collect through the twenty year life of the
judgment. Obtaining a judgment gives you the maximum powers a private
person can obtain from the justice system. If the judgment debtor has a
job you have the right to take (garnish) a portion of his wages. You can
seize assets and property subject to certain rules and limitations.
Often the debtor hides the assets in
family member names and it becomes difficult or impossible to find
anything to seize. The perpetrator may seek bankruptcy protection and be
able to discharge the debt (though a fraud judgment may protect your
claim from discharge).
If enough money is at stake or if the
type of fraud allows attorney fees by statute, an attorney may be
willing to take your case on a contingency. Attorney fees can cover a
wide range. Expect a normal fraud case to cost a minimum of $5,000 if
the defendant does nothing (defaults), at least $30,00 if the case goes
to trial, and several hundred of thousands if complex matters are
involved and the defendant fights as hard as she can.
I think the perpetrator is "flakey".
Chasing an irresponsible perpetrator can
be a waste of time. It may be better to take the loss as a learning
experience. You can try to find the defendant, serve him and obtain a
judgment. Most times you will find that you have sent good money after
bad. You may want to report the person to criminal authorities.
Only chase a insolvent perpetrator as a
matter of "principle" and expect to spent a lot of time and money.
I don't know much about the perpetrator. How do I find out?
We have access to professional resources such as
comprehensive databases that can find information for most situations.
If you want to do your own investigation, here are some ideas.
Write down what do you know about this person.
Collect all information from others who dealt
with the perpetrator like credit card, shippers, and the like.
If a credit card was involved exhaust any remedy
available from the credit card company? Was the card issued by a
bank or directly from the credit card company? Is it a true credit
card or a debit card cleared through Visa or MasterCard network?
If a debit card or check is involved, who is the
issuing bank? What branch? Exhaust your remedies with the bank by
contacting the proper department. See if the person is listed in the
local on-line telephone book or can be found through a search
Check voter registration records.
Check Motor Vehicle registrations.
Check drivers license records (private in
Check state business records (Secretary of
Check Internet real property ownership records.
Contact a search firm on the Internet. Start with
free services found by typing “person search” in google.com or other
Consider paying the $10 or so that personal
search firms on the Internet charge to give you more information
(find in search engine).
Consider paying for a more extensive and
expensive Internet search (find in search engine).
Find a local private investigator and put
her on a strict fixed price budget to collect the information.
Contact the police department closest to the
FRAUD TIP: Always try to know the person you are
dealing with. Obtain as much information as you can before you do
business with her. If you ignore this rule you are gambling. If you are
defrauded after ignoring this tip, don't forget to take some of the