Federal law enforcement professionals are concerned about victims and witnesses of financial crimes. As a victim or witness, you probably have questions about how a case will be investigated, what services and information will be available to you, and how you can begin to cope with your financial losses. This page is designed to provide general information to answer common concerns.
How Will I Obtain Information?
Federal crime victims have a number of rights during their participation in the criminal justice system. If you ask to be kept informed about the status the case, you may either receive periodic updates, or you may contact the case agent or agency's Victim/Witness Coordinator (Coordinator) on an ongoing basis.
It Is Very Important to Report Any Address Changes During an Investigation and/or Prosecution.
Even though the months ahead may be difficult for you and your family, your assistance is important to ensure that justice is fully achieved. The investigation of a possible financial crime is complex and may involve several law enforcement agencies. In regards to the criminal justice process, all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a criminal court.
Investigations may involve hundreds of victims in one case. During the investigation process, the case agent/Coordinator will remain your principle contact. If you remember anything additional, or learn of additional information about the crime, contact the case agent. Your rights during an investigation include:
- Information on the status of the investigation, to the extent that it is appropriate and does not interfere with the investigation;
- Notification of the arrest of an accused suspect or notice if prosecution is declined;
- Information on resources, compensation and possible restitution;
- Information on the procedure to request that any property held as evidence is returned after a defendant's case is closed.
If a case is accepted for prosecution federally, each U.S. Attorney’s Office has a Victim Witness Program to serve as your liaison throughout the process, to answer questions about the status of a case, and to assist with victim concerns. Some rights may only be available if a case is accepted for prosecution.
Once a case is indicted, you have the right to information about the continuing status of a case. This includes information about providing a victim impact statement, requesting restitution and information about a defendant's release from prison.
What Can I Do About Financial Losses?
Collect and save all paperwork that directly relates to your loss. If an arrest is made and a conviction is obtained, the judge will consider requiring the offender to pay you for certain losses (called restitution). You may be asked to provide verification of your loss amount.
If you believe you may be entitled to restitution, discuss this with the Investigative Agent or Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case immediately.
In addition, some losses may be tax deductible. Because tax laws are complicated, consult a qualified tax advisor or the Internal Revenue Service to see if your losses qualify.
Finally, if you believe the fraud perpetrator has assets, you may be able to recover losses through a civil lawsuit. Contact your state or local Bar Association for the names of attorneys who specialize in this area of law to determine if your case is appropriate for civil action. Another remedy may be with the Small Claims Court for the county in which the crime occurred.
Will I Get My Money Back?
Many victims want to know if they will get their money back, through restitution. Restitution is an order by the sentencing judge, ordering a convicted defendant to pay identified victims for certain losses as a result of the crime. In many types of federal crimes, it is mandatory for a convicted defendant to pay restitution. Unfortunately, as a practical matter, a convicted defendant who has no money or limited potential to make money may be unlikely to ever make meaningful restitution, particularly in fraud cases with many victims.
However, the federal government will work earnestly to ensure that any assets owned by a sentenced defendant, can be considered for payment of court-ordered restitution. An order of restitution is enforceable for twenty years, from the time a criminal judgment requiring restitution is filed (plus the time incarcerated).
If You Are Threatened or Harassed
Your safety is important to us. It may be helpful to know that threats or retaliation against a victim or potential witness are very rare. However, if you receive harassing or other improper phone calls, mail, or actions from anyone as a result of your participation in the investigation of your case, contact your local police and/or the case agent immediately.
Federal law provides for extra penalties for harassment or other threats against victims and witnesses. The case agent will discuss protective measures, if necessary.
What Can I Do to Address Financial or Credit Problems?
Some victims have financial losses which are so severe that they are unable to meet current financial obligations. If identification or financial information was stolen, credit may be affected, which may impact your immediate financial dealings. In both of these situations, consider these options:
Contact creditors and/or a nonprofit credit counseling service, who may work with you to reduce or modify your payments, or work with you to limit access to your accounts.
Submit a written statement to local and national credit reporting agencies about your victimization. Provide supporting documents such as a copy of the criminal judgment.
Be alert. Many fraud artists contact victims claiming they can help recover your losses for a fee, or may sell your name to others committing fraud scams. If called, contact the case agent or one of the agencies listed to verify the company's legitimacy.
Why Do I Feel the Way I Do?
Victims of financial crime may experience varying degrees of emotional trauma after a financial crime is discovered. You may feel some or all of the following:
- Anger, resentment, or a sense of betrayal toward an offender.
- Frustration with criminal justice professionals, or at the delay in the investigation or prosecution.
- Shame, embarrassment, depression and guilt if you feel your actions contributed to your victimization; difficulty trusting others.
- Fear for your financial security and ability to provide for your family. In cases of identity fraud, concern that important financial information may continue to be illegally used.
It Is Important to Realize That These Are Normal Reactions to a Crime. Some victims find it helpful to seek the services of a counseling professional, clergy member, or advocacy organization. Contact the Coordinator for help in locating services, if needed.
Victims of Federal Crimes Have the Following Rights: (42 U.S.C. Section 10606(b))
- The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
- The right to be reasonably protected from the accused offender.
- The right to be notified of court proceedings.
- The right to be present at all public Court proceedings related to the offense, unless the Court determines that testimony by a victim would be materially affected if a victim heard other testimony at trial.
- The right to confer with the prosecutor.
- The right to restitution, if a defendant is convicted.
- The right to receive information on the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment and the release of an offender.
As a federal crime victim, you also have the following rights under 18 United States Code § 3771:
- The right to be reasonably protected from the accused;
- The right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any public court proceeding, or any parole proceeding, involving the crime or of any release or escape of the accused;
- The right not to be excluded from any such public court proceeding, unless the court, after receiving clear and convincing evidence, determines that testimony by the victim would be materially altered if the victim heard other testimony at that proceeding;
- The right to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding in the district court involving release, plea, sentencing, or any parole proceeding;
- The reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case;
- The right to full and timely restitution as provided in law;
- The right to proceedings free from unreasonable delay;
- The right to be treated with fairness and with respect for the victim's dignity and privacy.
We will make our best efforts to ensure you are accorded the rights described. You can seek the advice of an attorney with respect to these rights. This Office cannot act as your attorney or provide you with legal advice.
Resources and Referrals
Elder Care Locator - Community Elder Care Locator is a National hotline locates local programs in many communities to assist elders. (800-677-1116)
National Foundation for Consumer Credit. Consumer Credit Counseling Center Assistance, providing free, confidential money management and debt counseling and assistance with creditors. www.nfcc.org 800-388-2227
Local Legal Aide, Senior Community Center Legal Programs, and Family Services Centers may also provide victim assistance, especially if your income is limited. Check with your local directory information telephone services for information for each community.
Contact the agencies listed below to have your name removed from many mailing and phone lists (telemarketing) contact these agencies in writing. Be aware this will not stop the illegal telemarketing scams.
Direct Marketing Assn. (Mail Preference Service)
PO Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735
Direct Marketing Assn.
Telephone Preference Service
PO Box 9014
Farmingdale, NY 11735
For Victims of Identity Theft
The Federal Trade Commission recommends victims take several actions immediately.
First contact the fraud departments of each of the three credit bureaus. Tell them to flag your credit file with a fraud alert including a statement that creditors should contact you for permission before they open any new accounts in your name. If checks are involved, contact your bank and consider closing any accounts in which checks have been fraudulently used. Order copies of your credit report to check for accuracy.
Second, contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Follow up with a letter documenting the fraud.
Third, file a police report. In many states, identity theft is a crime. File a police report to document the theft and keep the information so that creditors have proof that the crime was reported.
Fourth, contact the Federal Trade Commission to report the crime and obtain other useful information to protect your financial identity.
Federal Trade Commission Clearinghouse
Credit Reporting Agencies
Write the following to report credit fraud or dispute information listed. Also, contact to request credit reports.
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Trans Union Corp.
P.O. Box 6790,
Fullerton, CA 92834
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Provides information on identity fraud.
Other National Resources
• Social Security Administration Fraud Hotline: To report misuse of social security number, fraud, or a forged check. (800-269-0271)
• Internet Crime Complaint Center: To report fraud on the Internet or if you expect wrongdoing.
• National Association of Securities Dealers: Discloses information and investigates complaints on licensed brokers. 800-289-9999
• Medicare Fraud Hotline 800-447-8477
• Securities and Exchange Commission: Resource on investor questions. Also, investigates complaints against brokers or an unfair sales practice. Office of Investor Education and Assistance: 202-942-7040 or toll free at 1-800-SEC-0330
• Commodities Futures Trading Commission: For complaints involving licensed commodities futures trading professionals. Information Center - 1-800-621-3570
• U.S. Postal Service: Takes reports of mail related fraud crimes. Also, provides tips on avoiding fraud crimes.
• Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)
"Suspicious Internet Banking Web Site" To report online banking institutions that misrepresent themselves, and to find out if a bank is an FDIC insured depository institution.
• Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Issues (877-382-4357)
Identity Theft Hotline (877-438-4338)
To report consumer complaints on a variety of business frauds. (202-382-4357)
• National Center for Victims of Crime (800-394-2255)
National advocacy for victims of all crimes.
• BBB Wise Giving Alliance (703-276-0100)
Help consumers make wise decisions in making charitable contributions.
• National Foundation for Consumer Credit (800-388-2227)
Consumer Credit Counseling Center Assistance with credit problems providing free money management and debt counseling and assistance with creditors.
• National Insurance Crime Bureau (800-835-6422)
To report property fraud committed against an insurance company.
State Agencies to Report Fraud
• Office of the Attorney General, General Information (404-656-3300)
Investigates a variety of consumer/business frauds.
• Local police to report consumer frauds.
• Better Business Bureau of Metro Atlanta (404-688-4910)
Information on complaints against businesses and charities. Mediation of complaints against businesses.
• Office of the Insurance Commissioner
Information and source to file complaints for insurance related frauds.
Also, County Legal Aid Associations, consumer protection agencies and some county or state bar associations (for elders) may have programs which may assist victims of fraud schemes, or provide information on avoiding scams. In addition, many communities have Family Service Counseling Centers, which may help with counseling needs based on a sliding fee scale, for those without insurance. Many senior community centers throughout the United States often sponsor programs involving legal assistance or referrals for elderly people. This may be helpful to elderly victims of financial crimes.
Links to Publications and Other Resources
Information from Securities and Exchange Commission
Information from Health and Human Services