When Does the FBI Investigate Fraud?

How trusting are you? Would you fall for a scam? And if you did, would the FBI investigate and help you get your money back?

I spent most of my FBI career on an Economic Crime Squad working fraud investigations—advance fee scams, Ponzi schemes, embezzlement, and business-to-business telemarketing frauds.

To be defrauded is when someone, such as a business partner, salesperson, or con man, uses a lie or deception to gain something of value from another person.

Desperate people call the complaint phone lines of FBI offices across the country to report that they’ve been defrauded and to request assistance from the FBI. But whether, after hearing their story, an agent will open a fraud investigation is complicated. 

In my opinion, frauds and scams are some of the most complex investigations worked by the FBI.

Unlike other crimes such as bank robbery and drug trafficking, in many situations, before an agent investigating fraud can prove the capability of the perpetrator of a crime, they must first establish that the transaction that took place was indeed a crime. Here are a few examples to help explain what I mean.

  1. A woman claims that she paid a loan broker to connect her with an investor to help her keep her under-capitalized clothing boutique afloat. But the contract she signed only promises he will perform his best efforts.
  2. A small business owner says his company is a victim of an over-billing scam, but his procurement officer signed and approved each invoice.
  3. During an audit, a local municipal official discovers water and waste services funds are insufficient. However, he has no clue if it’s a miscalculation of annual revenue, a bookkeeping error or embezzlement.
  4. The daughter of an elderly man learns he has willingly given his life savings to a charismatic religious leader. Her father claims the funds are in an investment that will return huge profits.
  5. A middle-age man has been sending money online to his overseas girlfriend. He sent her a large sum so she could ship her belongings and buy a plane ticket to come over to the U.S. and marry him, but hasn’t been able to contact her recently.

Of the above situations, none is clear cut. And once it’s been determined that a crime has occurred, there is another factor that must be considered before the FBI can open a case.

Does the monetary loss meet the dollar threshold set by the local United States Attorney’s Office to merit prosecution?

It’s a practical matter of manpower and resource allotment. How much are talking about? It depends on the jurisdiction. But the dollar amount is usually in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. The FBI will not investigate a case a federal prosecutor won’t agree to take to trial.

The FBI encourages everyone to file a complaint. It’s possible that there are other victims and multiple complaints in other jurisdictions that can be aggregated so that opening of a federal investigation is possible. Larger local police departments also have active fraud bureaus. Filing a lawsuit is often recommended, even when a criminal case is pursued.


Victims should also file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center where similar scams and patterns of deception may identify a larger scheme. If appropriate, they refer complaints to federal, state, local or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for possible investigation.


Unfortunately, the return or refund of monies lost during the scheme is not the investigator’s main goal or focus.

The agent’s job is to bring the person who committed the crime, the con man, embezzler, fraudster, or scammer, to justice. Any money found can be seized and a forfeiture count added to charges. If convicted, the court system may order restitution, but let’s be honest, usually there’s not much money left to return to victims.

Listen to these FBI Retired Case File Review episodes featuring fraud schemes and scams.

I hope you’ll also read my Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime novel series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler, available as audiobooks, e-books, and paperbacks – wherever books are sold!


Here’s what you should watch out for if presented with an opportunity that doesn’t smell right, that seems too good to be true:

  1. Even if all the cool kids are doing it, don’t base your decisions solely on recommendations from friends. Check things out yourself.
  2. If the offer seems too good to pass up, of course it does. Remember, that’s part of the seduction.
  3. Resist responding to a false sense of urgency. Don’t let anyone pressure you into making a decision. There are very few “once in a lifetime” opportunities.
  4. Often victims say they had suspicions, but ignored them. Pay attention to red flags.
  5. Evaluate your own weaknesses. Are you vulnerable because you’re seeking a certain lifestyle or status and willing to cut corners to get it?

Just for fun, here’s a free word search puzzle featuring economic crime. Enjoy!


Jerri Williams

View posts by Jerri Williams
Jerri Williams, a retired FBI agent, author and podcaster, jokes that she writes about the FBI to relive her glory days. After 26 years with the Bureau specializing in major economic fraud and corruption investigations, she calls on her professional encounters with scams and schemers to write police procedurals inspired by true crime FBI cases in her Philadelphia FBI Corruption Squad crime fiction series featuring flawed female FBI agent Kari Wheeler. Jerri’s FBI for Armchair Detectives nonfiction series enables readers to discover who the FBI is and what the FBI does by debunking misconceptions about the FBI in books, TV, and movies. Her books are available as ebooks, paperbacks, and audiobooks wherever books are sold. She’s also the host of FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 300 episodes available on all popular podcast apps and YouTube.


  1. Daniel G GrigsonJanuary 30, 2024

    I live at a condominium where over the past year and 4 months the financial reports are not available to the homeowners, no required financial reports for 2022 or 2023 by independent auditor performed, and statements presented are not reconciled are a available for review. Many months of financials are not recorded or available for review. The President for the past 2 and 1/2 months has refused homeowners of their required Annual Meeting to elect Board of Directors IAW Texas Business Organiztion Code, and is basically holding the Condominium hostile/hostage. Will FBI investigate fraud? Anything homeowners can do? This is a condominium of 181 homeowners. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    1. Jerri WilliamsJanuary 31, 2024

      Sorry to hear about the issues you’re having with condo board. There might be something fraudulent going on but you need access to financials records first. I believe you and the other homeowners will need to hire an attorney to demand access.

  2. Gerald Cruz PadronJune 6, 2023


    1. Jerri WilliamsJune 6, 2023

      I’m sorry. I cannot help you. I no longer investigate cases.

  3. MarcMarch 17, 2023

    I was elder scammed two years ago by an Instagram (supposed) woman named Amanda Brey. Breyamanda7@gmail.net. She/him/ they used borrowed pictures of a model named Mia Jemsen, MollyX, Molly Bennett. I was gullible to scamming and fell for it and lost a substantial amount of money before I realized what I fell into. I canceled all social media but was able to find out she? Is still posting on Instagram as Amanda brey @ Amanda brey 7 through a Google search.

  4. KevinNovember 2, 2022

    If someone is a victim of a scam involving crypto currency and they report it to the FBI, will the FBI require a payment in order to investigate the scam?

    1. Jerri WilliamsNovember 3, 2022

      The FBI never requires payment to investigate a scam. If you’ve been a victim of a fraud scheme please file a complaint here: https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint

  5. Sabrina WangJune 14, 2022

    With innocent It is my life time unspeakable mistakes that at my retired age I got social media scammed of half million usd it’s my life time saving including my 40 years IRA account. I can’t believe it is real happened to me. With deep regrets I can’t only curse that scheming scammers only I regret that I am lack of education, information that world is totally different not my spontaneous think. Now is too late my life is ending, but still with hope I wish some Goverment with high authority and greatest power can size arrest this frauder or frauder group. His fake identity as following: name Kim Woo, self business Woolanderk Geo Service, email address: wookim2040@gmail.com, wechat Id muting 2020, live LA California Korean Town, permanent address 1139 Arkasas Ave, Pittsburgh Pa 15216 phone: 562 888 5047 associate with Sun Yong Quan China Agricultural Bank, Jie Zhen Hong , bank of China/ , Iloanugo Anthony Sopulu in German Sparta Bank, North Central Credit Union offshore banking, legal Notary Manuala Antonio at Macau China, Webbs associate consultant team Since then July 2020 I have suffered severe panicking disorder, financil disaster mental illness. I can not afford losing that huge money, and I can not rest a second not seeing him arrest. I write wishing miracle. Any approved document will be supplied upon your request!

    1. Jerri WilliamsJune 17, 2022

      There is help available to you. Please visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at https://www.ic3.gov/ and complete the complaint form. Good luck!

    2. Sabrina WangJuly 7, 2022

      I did log & complete the IC3 back April 2021 wish it was read by FBI already. But I have not get any assistance since then as I have being anxious catch the scammer & restore my significant lost half million dollars from all my 40 years blood & sweats saving from my very low income. Two years emotional suffer had passed I still in so much painful. Still hang up for miracle happen to me.
      Wish justice comes.


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