FTC's Latest Report: ID Theft Tops List of Consumer Complaints

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The 2011 edition of the annual Sentinel Network report compiled by the Federal Trade Commission has now been released.  The report is based on the millions of complaints that the FTC receives each year either directly or through Consumer Sentinel Network partners such as the Better Business Bureau, the US Postal Inspection Service and a number of other state, federal and private organizations. 

There were 1.8 million complaints used to compile this new report, all of which were filed between January and December 2011.

Here is the breakdown of complaint categories:
                                                                               Number          Percent

I.D. Theft                                                                   279,156        15 percent
Debt Collection Complaints                                       180,928        10 percent
Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries                           100,208          6 percent
Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales                                98,306         5 percent
Banks and Lenders                                                      89,341         5 percent
Internet Services                                                          81,805         5 percent
Auto Related Complaints                                             77,435         4 percent
Imposter Scams                                                           73,281         4 percent
Telephone and Mobile Services                                  70,024         4 percent
Advance-Fee Loans and Credit Protection/Repair      47,414         3 percent

This is the 12th year in a row that Identity theft topped the list as the leading "reported" consumer problem.  

The report breaks out complaint data on a state-by-state basis and also contains data about the 50 metropolitan areas reporting the highest per capita incidence of fraud and other complaints. 

Unfortunately, Florida once again topped the list in regard to identity theft complaints with 178.7 complaints per 100,000 people living in the state. 

A total of 33,595 were filed in the state in 2011, while #2 Georgia only had 11,625.  This is a significant increase over 2010's Sentinel Network report which showed 21,581 complaints being filed in Florida... most states had fewer complaints total than the difference between Florida's 2010 and 2011 rankings.

The only state that had more actual complaints than Florida was California with 38,607, but due to the significantly larger population this number represented a smaller percentage of the people living in the state than Florida's complaint number did.

Other information included in the report broke identity theft complaints down by type and by age group.  Though many people still think of identity theft as being primarily credit-based, all types of credit card fraud combined only made up 14% of the identity theft cases reported to the Sentinel Network. 

The most prevalent form of identity theft was actually tax and wage-related fraud, making up 24.1% of all complaints.  And if you think that merely checking your credit report is going to protect you from identity theft, think again... a full 50% of the complaints filed were for forms of identity theft that will never show up on your credit report.

The age group reporting the highest incident rate for identity theft is those aged 20 to 29, with reports from this age group comprising 23% of all complaints submitted.  This is actually down from the 24% listed in the 2010 report, though the actual difference in complaint numbers only equals around 45 complaints.  Sadly, this is also the only age group to show a decrease in complaints from the previous year; some of the other age groups increased by hundreds of complaints, while others increased by thousands.

In 2010, 7% of those filing a complaint indicated that they had contacted the police department but the police didn't take a report of the crime; in 2011 this dropped to 6%, but given the larger number of overall complaints this "drop" actually corresponds with over 1000 additional cases where no report was taken.  What's more disturbing is that the number of people who didn't bother to contact the police at all has risen, moving from 28% in 2010 to 30% in 2011.  If that doesn't seem like that big of an increase to you, please realize that this 2% increase represents 7,648 victims of identity theft who didn't contact the police at all.

If you're interested in reading the report in its entirety, click here: FTC Consumer Sentinel Network Report. The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

Additionally, many of my emails continue to indicate that consumers have a have a hard time knowing how to file complaints or find help when dealing with abusive or predatory financial practices. If you've experienced difficulties with a financial product, reach out to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, they want to hear from you as they continue to examine and enforce consumer financial protection rights, rules and regulations.  

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