I’ve spent the last week chasing a scammer, because I’m a sucker for a good story. I have that story, but I’m not happy with it.
In the meantime, there’s definitely a need for a procedure to follow if you make a deal on a forum or bulletin board and never receive the promised merchandise.There are several things that you can and should do. The laws are slippery, and in the case of the scammer I’ve been watching, he seems to be pretty careful to keep his fraud under certain thresholds to stay in operation. So you need all the help you can get.
First, gather information. Find the address where you sent your item or payment. Have descriptions of the item(s) you sent and the item(s) you expected to receive, along with fair market value. If you have Paypal receipts or anything like that, print those out. If you have addresses, phone numbers, or any other information, get that too. Finally, if you have an address or phone number, do a Google search to find your trading partner’s local police department.
If your trading partner has ripped off other people and other people are complaining about it, take evidence of this along.
Take all of that information to your local police department and ask to file a complaint. The procedure varies from department to department. An officer might interview you, or there might be a form you can fill out. Whatever it is, be nice and cooperate with them. These guys are on your side, but the more pleasant you are to work with, the more likely they’re going to be to be willing to go the extra mile for you.
Ask if they’ll contact your trading partner’s local police department, or if you need to do that. If you need to do it, call the other police department and give them all the information they ask for. Most likely, your local police department will make contact because they’ll need to work together.
Next, get the feds involved. Some of these guys get away with what they do because their scams involve small amounts of money. But if you mailed your package or payment through the U.S. Postal Service and the person scammed you, now the person is also guilty of mail fraud, which can make a minor crime more serious.
You can report mail fraud by filling out a USPS form online. The process is simple and only takes a few minutes.
Take the time to do this, because there is one scammer out there who’s been getting away with fraud for at least four years, primarily because he seems to be careful to keep the value each transaction low enough. So you need all the extra help you can get.
I don’t know why five $200 ripoffs don’t equal one $1,000 ripoff. That’s a question for the police.
Finally, contact the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. This may or may not help you, but it will help other victims.
Of course you should also contact the administrators of the forum where the deal took place, but all they can do is ban the account. The scammer probably doesn’t care; he’ll be on another forum next week under a different name anyway.
It seems like part of the reason people are able to get away with these schemes is because discussions about them quickly degenerate into flamewars, sometimes with the scammer himself doing everything he can to fan the flames. Then the moderators close the thread or delete it, and then no constructive dialog can take place. Then the scammer just moves on to another forum, where he has no history and is free to do it again.
Talking about it is fine. The problem is, the topic of contacting the authorities usually comes up too late in the discussion, so a lot of people don’t think about it. If they think about it, they might not know where to start.
If you’ve been scammed, please contact law enforcement. The authorities may or may not be able to help you get your stuff back, but if enough people act, they can put a scammer out of business, so other people don’t fall victim to the same scheme you did.
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