How to Take Legal Action Against International Fraud
Fraud occurs when someone purposefully deceives you with the intent of causing damage (often financial damage).Fraud takes many forms and can even occur across international borders. When you are the victim of international fraud, you should immediately contact federal and international agencies tasked with investigating and stopping the activity. In addition to making agencies aware, you should also file a federal lawsuit in an attempt to recoup the damages you sustained. However, be aware that international fraud cases involve complex hurdles to recovery (e.g., personal jurisdiction and service of process). You should always hire a qualified lawyer when suing someone for international fraud.
Send a report to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).International fraud often takes place over the internet where fraudsters in other countries can easily access U.S. citizens. The FBI keeps an active list of ongoing fraud schemes taking place online, which can be found on their website. As of early 2019, common international internet fraud schemes included auction fraud, credit card fraud, parcel courier email schemes, lotteries, and Nigerian letters.
- If you believe you are the victim of international internet fraud, file a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). You can file a complaint on their website. When filling out your complaint, you will be asked for your name, address, telephone number, information about the fraud that occurred, and any other specific details you can remember.
- IC3 will review your complaint and research, develop, and forward information on to federal, state, or international law enforcement agencies.
Submit a complaint to econsumer.If you spot an international scam that does or does not involve the internet, you should submit a complaint to econsumer.gov, which is a partnership of 34 consumer protection agencies around the world. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a part of this partnership. Examples of non-internet related fraud schemes include being mailed foreign lottery information, fielding phone requests to send money overseas, or being sent fake merchandise from another country. When you file a complaint with econsumer.gov, you help the global community investigate and bring cases that help prevent international fraud.
- To submit an econsumer.gov complaint, visit their website and click on the link to "file a complaint." Next you will choose the type of scam or fraud you have been the victim of (e.g., travel and vacations, credit and debt, imposter scams, lottery scams). You will then fill out information about the scam. You can choose how much information to provide, but the more you divulge, the more likely it will be that your complaint is reviewed.
Report fraud to the (FTC).Even though the FTC is a part of the econsumer.gov international partnership, it is always helpful to submit a complaint directly to them. While the FTC cannot resolve your individual complaint, your information will be forwarded along to various law enforcement agencies. The FTC can also help you determine how to move forward with your case.
- To report fraud to the FTC, visit their complaint assistant website. From there you will select the type of activity you are complaining about (e.g., identity theft, scams, online shopping, debt). You will then provide the FTC with your personal information, information about the fraud, and any other comments you think may be helpful.
Filing a Lawsuit
Hire a lawyer.Filing a lawsuit alleging that an international individual or corporation committed some form of fraud is a complex legal task. If you plan on filing, you should always try to hire a qualified lawyer to help. You should first contact your state bar association's lawyer referral service, which will get you in touch with qualified lawyers in your area. In addition, due to the complex legal questions involved, you should search for reputable international law firms to contact. International law firms will have a particular expertise in handling cases that transcend borders. These law firms will be incredibly helpful when it comes time to prove personal jurisdiction and serve the defendant.
- Some law firms even form international alliances in order to collaborate on international issues. For example, the International Network for Financial Litigation is a group of 22 international law firms collaborating on financial litigation against products sold across borders.
- If you can find one of these law firms to help, you will increase your chances of success in both winning your lawsuit and collecting your award.
- While these international law firms will often charge a high fee, in these types of international cases it is almost always worth it. If you fail to hire qualified help, your case may be dismissed before it ever gets started.
Decide where to sue.In order to sue someone, you must have a valid cause of action (i.e., there must be a law that manages the conduct in question). Fraud has been recognized as a valid cause of action by the United States Supreme Court and statutes exist at the state and federal level stating the same. Fraud cases that involve international defendants or actions that have crossed international borders should almost always be filed in federal court.
Prove subject matter jurisdiction.In order for a federal court to have subject matter jurisdiction over your case, you will need to file your lawsuit under a federal law or will have to prove diversity of citizenship. If you file your lawsuit claiming a federal law has been broken, you will meet the test. If you are filing under a state fraud law, you will have to show that you and the defendant are from different states, which should be easy to show if the defendant lives in and/or conducts business in a different country. In addition, the amount in controversy (i.e., the amount you are asking the court to award you in damages) must exceed ,000.This threshold may be difficult to meet if you were only defrauded for a couple hundred dollars.
Demonstrate personal jurisdiction.Most importantly in international fraud cases, you must be able to show a federal court that they have personal jurisdiction over the defendant. You will not be able to sue a foreign defendant unless he or she has established some relationship with your forum (i.e., minimum contacts) that would lead them to anticipate they could be sued there. If the defendant is wholly foreign and does not step foot in the United States, they can only be sued if you can meet the "effects test" and the federal or state "long-arm statute" parameters.
- The effects test is met if the defendant's activities outside of the state were intended to cause an effect within the state.This would probably be met if, for example, the defendant intentionally sent you a fraudulent lottery email that caused you to take money out of your bank to be sent overseas to them.
- Long-arm statutes set parameters for when states and the federal government can govern conduct by non-citizens. Federal courts can borrow the long-arm statute of the state they reside in, they can exercise grants of jurisdiction found specifically in federal statutes, or they can exercise jurisdiction against foreigners being sued under federal law who are not subject to the jurisdiction of any particular state.
Draft a complaint.Your complaint is the legal document telling the judge and defendant why you think a law was violated, how you were injured, and how the court can fix it. Your complaint will include various legal arguments in order to prove your case is valid. In general you will need to include the following information:
- A case caption, which will include your name and the name of the defendant.
- The facts of your case.
- Exhibits to support your complaint.
- An indication of whether you would like a jury.
- Proof that jurisdiction is valid in the court you are filing in (i.e., personal and subject matter).
- The nature of your suit and the cause of action (i.e., the law under which you are suing, which will be some form of fraud).
Fill out a summons form.The summons is a document that demands the defendant's response to the lawsuit against them. When you download the summons form, which can be found on the federal court's website, you will input the defendant's name and address where required. You must also input the number of days the defendant has to respond. This time frame is determined by looking at the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which can be found online.
- The time frame will usually be around 30 days for most cases. This may or may not be extended due to the fact your defendant is likely not present in the United States.
File your paperwork.In most federal courts, you can file your case in-person or by email. If you are close to the courthouse, you should file your complaint and summons in-person so the clerk can look them over and let you know if anything needs to be changed. If you are filing your case by email, every document must be in .pdf format. The clerk's office will review your paperwork and ensure everything is complete.
- In addition to filing your paperwork, you will also be required to pay a 0 filing fee for filing a new case. If you pay the fee, the clerk will stamp your paperwork as "filed", they will assign a case umber and judge to your case, and you will receive the summons back.
- If you cannot afford the fee, you can submit a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, which asks the court to waive the fees. A summons will not be issued to you until the judge rules on this motion.
- When you receive the summons from the court, it will have the court's seal on it, which makes it official. You will only get one summons per defendant.
Serve the defendant.When you serve the defendant, you are letting them know you have filed a case against them. To serve the defendant, you will need to provide them with a copy of your complaint and a stamped summons. You have 120 days from when you file to serve the defendant.
- If the defendant in your case is not in the U.S., you will have to rely on international agreements to determine how you can serve the defendant. One form of accepted delivery is the use of a "letter rogatory." Here, you will have to get your court to issue a formal request to a foreign court. The foreign court, if they accept, will make sure the defendant is served. While this is foolproof way to serve the other party and ensure your case is not dismissed, it is incredibly complex.
- Another common way to effect service is to have it done by a foreign law enforcement agency. Again, this is a foolproof way to complete service.
- You may also try certified mail, publication, or waiver. However, these methods are not accepted everywhere and you will not have the help of the foreign government, which ensures your judgment can be upheld and collected.
File the Return of Service.The court will know when you have served the defendant because the person who served them will complete the Return of Service section on the back of the summons. The summons will then be returned to you and you will have to file it with the clerk of courts.
Participating in Pretrial Actions
Wait for the defendant's answer.If a defendant responds to your complaint, it will usually be with an answer and/or various motions. The answer will respond to each of your allegations by denying or accepting them. In addition, the defendant may make counterclaims against you or may ask that the case be dismissed.
- In international fraud cases, the defendant will usually ask the court to dismiss the case for a lack of jurisdiction or proper service of process. In either instance, the defendant is claiming they cannot be legally reached by the court you chose to file in.
- If a defendant does not answer, the court may enter a default judgment against them. If this happens, you will be awarded the relief sought in your complaint.
Take part in discovery.During discovery, you and the defendant will exchange information in order to prepare for trial. You will be able to ask about the identity of witnesses and for documents relating to the case. If the defendant does not cooperate, you can file motions with the court asking it to require the defendant to respond to your requests. In general, you will be able to use the following discovery tools:
- Depositions, which are interviews in which the defendant or other witnesses will answer questions in-person and under oath. The answers to these questions can be used in court.
- Interrogatories, which are written questions that are required to be answered under oath. The answers can be used in court.
- Document requests, which ask the defendant to give you tangible items relevant to your case. This could include graphs, photos, or drawings, among other things.
- Requests for admission, which ask the defendant to admit whether certain facts are true and whether certain documents are genuine.
Defend against a motion for summary judgment.After discovery, most defendants will try and file a dispositive motion to end the litigation before it goes any further. A motion for summary judgment is one such motion, and it asks the court to rule in favor of the defendant because there is no genuine issue of material fact and the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. To prove this, a defendant will submit affidavits and evidence showing the court that, even if all assumptions were made in your favor, you would still lose.
- If the defendant is successful, the case will be dismissed.
- You will be able to defend against this motion by filing your own evidence and affidavits showing the court there are contested factual issues that need to be resolved at trial. If you succeed, the case will continue.
Attempt to settle.Before going to trial, you may want to engage the defendant in settlement talks in order to avoid the added cost and time it takes to go to trial. During settlement talks, you and the defendant will discuss ways to avoid trial and end the litigation. If you have a particularly strong case, you should be careful not to settle unless it makes financial and personal sense to do so. Apart from informal settlement discussions, you may also choose to take part in:
- Mediation, which involves a neutral third party who will sit down with you and the defendant and try to find common ground. The mediator will not take sides and will be careful not to inject their own opinion into the talks.
- Arbitration, which involves a third party who will act as a judge and listen to the evidence presented by you and the defendant. The third party will then analyze what they have heard and draft an opinion stating who they think has the stronger case and what an acceptable award may look like.
Attend your final pretrial motion.The judge assigned to your case may ask you and the defendant to take part in one more pretrial conference before trial. This conference will usually be conducted to put together a road map of the upcoming trial, including what witnesses will be called and how long the trial might take.
Going to Trial
Choose whether you want a jury.Your complaint will have indicated whether you want a trial by jury or a bench trial (i.e., a trial in which the judge is the only decision maker). If your case is tried to the court, without a jury, he or she will hear all of the evidence and make a decision at the conclusion of the trial.
- If you choose to have a jury, and one is allowed, you will take part in "voire dire", which is the process of choosing a jury. During this process, you will be able to ask the possible jurors questions and see whether they will be fair and impartial during your case.If a juror is biased or you do not want them on the jury for another, permissible reason, you will be able to dismiss them.
Familiarize yourself with the rules of evidence.In federal court, only evidence presented in accordance with the Federal Rules of Evidence will be admitted. The rules are in place to ensure only valuable, relevant, and reliable information is heard by the judge and/or jury. You must know the rules in order to present a quality case. The rules can be found online.
- Evidence at trial will always consist of exhibits (i.e., physical evidence) and witness testimony.
Make an opening statement.When the trial begins, it will start with you making an opening statement about how the trial will proceed. You will give the jury and/or the judge an outline of the case and all of the important points you will prove. You should not discuss any particular evidence at this point and the opening statement should be relatively brief and to the point.
- The defendant may also choose to make an opening statement, which will come after your unless he or she saves it for a later time.
Present your case.The presentation of evidence will start with you calling your first witness to the stand. You will ask them questions about the facts of your case and you will introduce evidence through them. When you are done questioning the witness, the defense will have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness to try and poke holes in your case. This process will continue until you have presented every witness to the court.
Cross-examine defense witnesses.After you present your case, the defense will have an opportunity to present theirs. After the defense examines each of their witnesses, you will have an opportunity to cross-examine.During cross-examination you are looking to discredit witness testimony by proving they were lying or untrustworthy.
- For example, if a defense witness said one thing at trial and the opposite during a deposition, you would bring up the deposition on cross-examination and ask about it.
Make a closing argument.When both you and the defendant have presented your cases, you will have an opportunity to make a closing argument. During your closing arguments you want to bring all of the evidence together, spin it in your favor, and turn it into a compelling story. The defendant will have an opportunity to make their closing remarks when you are done.
Wait for the verdict.After the judge or the jury deliberate, they will make a final decision about your case. This decision is called a verdict and it determines who won the case. If the verdict is in your favor, a judgment will be prepared indicating the amount of money you will be awarded from the defendant. If you lose, the judgment will state the defendant does not owe you anything.
- If you win at trial and a judgment is issued in your favor, you still have to work to get the money from the defendant. This can prove to be particularly difficult or even impossible) when the defendant is in another country. If you served the defendant using a foreign court or foreign law enforcement agency, you may be able to recover your award through them (because that court will definitely have jurisdiction over a person physically in their territory).
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