En español | Guess what the most frequent Google search related to scams is. According to Google, it's simply "How do I report a scam?" The answer, of course, isn't simple.
Fraudsters can't be stopped unless their schemes are reported.
For scams perpetrated by shady contractors and front-door solicitors, contact local police and your state attorney general or district attorney. For other scams, here's a guide to which federal watchdog agency should get your complaints. Depending on your scam, there may be several.
Federal Trade Commission
This is the agency for reporting identity theft, abusive debt collectors and most types of fraud. After filing a complaint, you'll get a reference number to use when contacting the agency for future updates. The FTC received more than 3 million complaints in 2015, and it does not routinely respond back to you or resolve your individual case. Rather, your complaints will be entered into a database that the FTC and some 2,000 civil and criminal enforcement agencies use to track scam patterns and build cases against specific con artists. Fraud complaints should also be filed with your state's attorney general and even local law enforcement authorities.
National Do Not Call Registry
For reporting unsolicited sales calls. Start by putting your phone number on this registry. Once yours has been there for at least 31 days, you can report unwanted calls. Your information will be pooled with other data to help catch violators. Note that calls from legitimate charities, survey firms, debt collectors and political candidates or parties are not covered by the Do Not Call rules.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
For complaints about shady business practices and financial products, including loans, bank services, credit reporting, ID theft, debt collection and payment cards. The CFPB forwards complaints to the company, which has 15 days to respond. Cases are supposed to be resolved within 60 days. You can check the status of your case via the CFPB website. For credit cards and bank-issued ATM and debit cards that are used fraudulently, lost or stolen, contact the issuer.
Internet Crime Complaint Center
For reporting internet-based scams, including online auctions; investment and sales fraud; internet extortion, hacking and phishing; and scam emails. Operated by the FBI, the IC3 forwards complaint information to appropriate law enforcement or regulatory agencies, but does not directly conduct investigations.
Postal Inspection Service
To report scams distributed by U.S. mail, such as bogus lottery and sweepstakes "winnings," chain-letter schemes and deceptive advertisements—as well as mail theft.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.