The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office – Consumer Fraud Division may help victims of consumer fraud to recover losses, prosecute businesses or individuals accountable for the crime, as well as prevent other individuals from falling victim to the scheme. Attached below are several tips to avoid scams and frauds, including what to watch out for and the things to do if you were victimized.
Table of Contents
- Overview of the Consumer Fraud Unit
- Tips on How to Avoid Con Artists and Scams
- How to Avoid Home Repair Fraud
- Filing a Complaint with the Consumer Fraud Unit
- Contact the Consumer Fraud Unit by Telephone to File a Complaint
- What Happens After a Complaint is Filed?
- Managing a Home Repair Dispute On Your Own
- Self-Help Activities
- Better Business Bureau
- Pro-Se Court/Small Claims Court
- Private Attorney
- Consumer Fraud Unit News
Overview of the Consumer Fraud Unit
The Consumer Fraud Unit of the Cook County State’s Attorney is a part of the Special Prosecutions Bureau. Currently, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez maintains the unit to serve and aid consumers who were victimized by fraudulent individuals and businesses. Some of the variety of civil and criminal consumer law cases that the Consumer Fraud Unit handles include advance fee loan scams, dishonest auto sales, home repair fraud, identity theft, immigration fraud, mortgage rescue fraud, and work at home scams.
Inquiries concerning consumer matters may be raised to the Consumer Fraud Line, which is staffed by Consumer Fraud Unit Intake Specialists. These specialists are available to assist you through answering consumer-related questions, offer assistance in filing consumer complaints, and provide appropriate referrals. The Consumer Fraud Unit Intake Specialists may be reached through telephone at (312) 603-8700 during regular business hours from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, every Monday through Friday.
The offices of the Consumer Fraud Unit are located at 69 W. Washington St., Suite 3130, Chicago, Illinois, 60602. The unit may be contacted through telephone at (312) 603-8600 or through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips on How to Avoid Con Artists and Scams
- Con Artists often comes off as intelligent, persistent, talkative, and well dressed. Their targets are frequently individuals of their own ethnic heritage and the elderly. Know that the goal of con artists is to separate you from your money.
- Unsolicited and hurried sales opportunities are also frequently used to rush a consumer and trick them into thinking it is a good deal. Do not be pressured into making on-the-spot decisions; rather, take time to shop around and check other offers for goods and services. Remember that good deals are like buses—there will always be another.
- You can always say no, and do not be afraid to do so! When solicitations and other offers are being given to you, remember that you have a choice to reject those offers.
- Scams may also come in forms claiming you have won a contest you actually did not enter. Note that those that require to pay fees, taxes, or order merchandise to claim your “prize” are probably a scam.
- Telephone numbers are useful to check whether it is listed under the company’s name through dialing 411. Be skeptical of companies using post office box without street address or telephone number.
- Take time to investigate a company. Be wary of doing businesses with a new or troubled company. You may ask for references, identification, and licenses from the company or you may call the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois at (312) 832-0500 to obtain a reliability report about a company.
- Make it a habit to read a contract before signing. Note all of the important agreements and claims that you made with the salesperson and make sure they are all incorporated in the contract you are about to sign. If it is not in writing, it will be difficult to prove what was said after the fact.
- Do not sign a contract containing blank spaces, and obtain a copy of the contract upon signing. Keep in mind that the three-day “cooling off” period generally applies only to contracts created at your residence. Consider all other contracts to be final.
How to Avoid Home Repair Fraud
- Ask friends or satisfied customers for referrals of reputable contractors. Recommendations from local utility companies, local building inspectors, as well as from insurance companies, will also help you to find reliable contractors. Furthermore, you should ask the contractor for references and a written estimate.
- Only agree to advance payment of a small deposit for capital and materials cost. Do not pay the whole in advance, as you should opt to pay for the entire job, nor give the final payment until you are satisfied with the finished product.
- Do not allow strangers claiming to be an employee of a utility company into your home until you have verified their status as a utility employee through checking their identification cards and through the utility company. Be skeptical of all offers made by several “workers” of companies providing a “good deal”. They typically are trying to distract you as they loot from your home or are giving you scam offers.
- Determine if the contractor is properly licensed and insured by contacting the local building inspector, as well as the Better Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois at (312) 832-0500 or through www.chicago.bbb.org, to obtain a reliability report about the contractor.
- Obtain lien waivers from the general contractor to state that they have received payment and waive any future lien rights to the property for the amount paid. This will also prevent suppliers and subcontractors from filing a lien against you if the general contractor fails to pay the suppliers and subcontractors.
- Pay attention to the total of payments when taking out a home equity loan for home repair work as it usually doubles, or even triples in some cases, once all hidden fees, interests, and charges have been added. This will help you find an actual good deal.
- Familiarize yourself with the Illinois Home Repair and Remodeling Act, which requires home repair contractors to provide a pamphlet regarding “Home Repair: Know your Consumer Rights” before starting repairs. This is mandatory for all home repair contracts of over $500.
Filing a Complaint with the Consumer Fraud Unit
The Consumer Fraud Unit prosecutes individuals and businesses accountable for fraudulent schemes and unscrupulous practices; however, the process of prosecution highly relies on complaints from the victims and the public. Services offered are also only limited to complaints regarding consumer fraud, and does not have the power to investigate, nor does it include prosecution of individuals or companies that failed to provide utmost satisfaction service or product, as it does not fall under consumer fraud.
Contact the Consumer Fraud Unit by Telephone to File a Complaint
Initial inquiries concerning consumer matters may be raised to the Consumer Fraud Line, which is staffed by Consumer Fraud Unit Intake Specialists. These specialists are available to assist you through answering consumer-related questions, offer assistance in filing consumer complaints, and provide appropriate referrals. The Consumer Fraud Unit Intake Specialists may be reached through telephone at (312) 603-8700 during regular business hours from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm, every Monday through Friday.
Should the complaint fall within the jurisdiction of the Consumer Fraud Unit after initial investigation, the Intake Specialist will send the appropriate complaint to you, which would either be a “General Consumer Complaint Form” or a “Home Repair Fraud Complaint Form” – the two types of complaint forms the Unit employs.
The fully accomplished forms containing a detailed explanation of all the facts of your dispute, as well as copies of all the important documents related to the complaint shall be submitted by regular mail to the Consumer Fraud Unit located at 69 W. Washington St., Suite 3130, Chicago, Illinois, 60602. Note that it is highly discouraged to send original documents.
What Happens After a Complaint is Filed?
Following the submission of the fully accomplished form to the Consumer Fraud Unit, the complaint will be assigned a file number and subsequently screened by an attorney. On the one hand, through this screening process, several cases are declined for prosecution or are referred to other government or law enforcement agencies that specialize in a particular matter. On the other hand, some cases are further verified and investigated on by the Consumer Fraud Unit; however, this does not guarantee prosecution of the legal case, which may result to having the victim employ self-help methods.
Victims who filed written complaints through the Unit will be notified via mail of the decision of the screening attorney.
Managing a Home Repair Dispute On Your Own
In some instances, the Consumer Fraud Unit is not able to prosecute a particular case. Services offered by the Unit are only limited to complaints regarding consumer fraud. Furthermore, the Unit does not have the power to investigate, nor does it include prosecution of individuals or companies that failed to provide utmost satisfaction service or product, as it does not fall under consumer fraud. Other occurrences, such as performance of partial work in a regarded job usually prevents the successful criminal prosecution of the case for both theft and home repair fraud. Decision made by the State’s Attorney’s Office regarding a legal case on the criminal prosecution of fraud does not imply lack of other methods to pursue legal recourse.
Note that the first step in resolving consumer dispute shall involve the notification, in writing, of all parties involved. This implies that a letter containing the exact nature of the dispute shall be sent to the individual or company accountable for the matter at hand. Moreover, the letter shall be made to request a refund and/or completion of the work within a reasonable period of time, with at least ten days. The letter shall be sent through regular and certified mail, with a request for a return receipt. Bear in mind to keep a copy of the letters, including other important documents, and account them for your own records.
Better Business Bureau
The Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois is also available to hear your complaints, which may be sent through telephone at (312) 832-0500, or via www.chicago.bbb.org.
Pro-Se Court/Small Claims Court
Lawsuits may also be filed in Small Claims Court or Pro-Se litigation, wherein an individual will represent himself/herself in court. The prosecution process is done quickly and economically, where procedural rules are less formal than in other courts. On the one hand, claims amounting to less than $1,500 are handled by the Pro-Se litigation becomes responsible for it. On the other hand, Small Claims Court specializes in claims totalling between $1,000 and $5,000.
Fees are collected for filing complaints in the aforementioned courts; however, reimbursements for the costs may be taken in a judgement award. Further information regarding filing an action in Pro-Se Court and Small Claims Court may be found at the website of the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County at http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org
Every court district in Cook County maintains a Pro-Se and Small Claims Court
(312) 603-5626 or
Chicago, District #1
Skokie, District #2
Rolling Meadows, District #3
Maywood, District #4
(708) 974-6511 or
Bridgeview, District #5
Markham, District #6
Private Attorneys may be contacted through referrals from local bar associations or satisfied customers to evaluate your claim. Expect possible referral services charge.
Referrals from The Chicago Bar Association may be requested through telephone at (312) 554-2001 or through TDD at (312) 554-2055.
Consumer Fraud Unit News
Additional Information sought by the news media may be acquired through the Press Office of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office located at 69 W. Washington St., Suite 3130, Chicago, Illinois, 60602. The Office may also be contacted through Telephone at (312) 603-1851, or through e-mail at email@example.com
Comments and suggestions are openly received at the Consumer Fraud Unit at (312) 603-8700.
Updated: August 23, 2020