Finance Globe

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Identity Theft Still Top Consumer Complaint

Identity theft remains the number one consumer complaint for the tenth year in a row, according to the Consumer Sentinal Network (CSN) report released on Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC, the nation's consumer protection agency, publishes the statistical data from the CSN report each year. The CSN is a secure online database of consumer complaints to the FTC, Federal Bureau of Investigations, Department of Defense, Better Business Bureau, U.S. Postal Service Inspector, and other law enforcement and consumer protection agencies.

According to the report, the overall percentage of identity theft complaints is down from the previous year - it declined from 26% of all complaints in 2008 to 21% in 2009. The next most troubling type of complaint involved third party and creditor debt collection which accounted for 9% of consumer complaints.

Of the more than 1.3 million consumer complaints for the year 2009, 278,078 were about identity theft. Reports of fraud, identity theft, and other types of consumer complaints have been sorted into thirty different categories. And while identity theft is a form of fraud, the CSN report divides them into separate categories of complaints.

Credit card fraud remains the number one complaint among identity theft victims, making up 17% of identity theft complaints, followed by 16% of complaints regarding government documents/benefits fraud, 15% reporting phone or utilities fraud, and employment fraud making up 13% of reports. Other significant categories of identity theft were bank fraud making up 10% of complaints and 4% of complaints being about loan fraud.

By state, Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft, followed by Arizona and Texas. The lowest per capita rate of reported identity theft was in South Dakota, followed by North Dakota and Maine.

While identity theft is the single most reported category of complaints, fraud in general makes up the largest portion of complaints - 54% of all complaints in 2009. Of the 1.3 million consumer complaints received by the CSN 2009, 721,418 were fraud-related.

Of the fraud complaints which reported the method of initial contact, 48% of the consumers said email, 12% said an internet website, and only 10% reported the initial contact was by phone.

Some categories of fraud that add up to that 54% include internet services and shop-at-home catalog sales that each accounted for 6%, foreign money orders and counterfeit check scam made up 5% of complaints, and internet auctions accounted for 4% of all consumer complaints.

Nine categories of fraud or other types of complaints were each reported as making up 2% to 3% of total complaints. A few examples of these categories are credit card fraud, sweepstakes and lottery scams, advance-fee loan scams, work-at-home scams, and complaints regarding banks and lenders.

The remaining categories each make up less than 2% of complaints, and involve complaints such as problems with timeshares, buyers clubs, pyramid schemes, charitable contribution requests, investment oppurtunities, and a variety of other types of consumer complaints.

Nevada has the highest per capita rate of reported fraud and other complaints, followed by New Hampshire and Colorado. The lowest per capita rate of reported fraud and other complaints was in Mississippi, followed by South Dakota and North Dakota.

It remains important to protect your personal information against would-be identity theives and fraudsters. Before throwing sensitive information into the trash for a dumpster-diving crook to find, shred documents such as credit card statements, bank correspondence, and anything that has account numbers or social security numbers on them.

Also keep your important papers put away safely if you are to have guests in your home. A person who leaves their credit card bills with the corresponding account numbers out in the view of babysitters, housekeepers, and casual associates may one day find themselves to be a victim of identity theft.

There's no reason to leave that kind of temptation out in the open, because one of these days somebody may just take the bait. Many identity thieves and fraudsters are not "in the business," but will take advantage of an opportunity if it presents itself.

Unfortunately, there have even been quite a number of cases in which the victim finds out it is their own family member, or a spouse or ex-spouse who steals their identity and commits fraud, so always keep your private information with you, locked up, or destroyed.

Also, be very careful about divulging your private information to other parties, especially if you didn't initialize the contact. You're probably safe if you're just doing some shopping at a secure website that you're familiar with.

But be very careful about giving credit card numbers, social security numbers, or any other personal information over the phone, the web, or even through the mail if the party contacted you first. They can sometimes come up with a very convincing story to get the information they need to commit fraud and identity theft.

And check your credit report routinely - at the minimum at least once a year - to check for evidence of accounts fraudulently opened in your name. Collection accounts for credit cards, loans, and unpaid medical or utilities bills that you don't recognize are often the work of a crook who used your private information and then skipped out on the bill.

If you find something questionable on your credit report and suspect identity theft, contact the reporting credit bureau to dispute the account. They must research the account and remove it from your credit report to accurately reflect your credit history.

In addition to contacting the credit bureau, consider contacting the creditor that reported you to the credit bureau to deal with the issue faster. Sometimes you can get it cleared up in one phone call by contacting them directly - especially if, for example, the account in question is for a utility bill in a state you don't live in, or something else that looks very suspicious.

Also contact the appropriate authorities to report the fraud, which includes your local police to file a police report. A police report may help you in proving that overdue bills or collection accounts are not due to your actions.

And finally, report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at

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Thursday, 25 April 2024

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