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FTC: Impostor Scams Surpass ID Theft (but Debt Collection Remains Top Complaint)

More Americans last year complained about scammers playing an identity — most often, that of an IRS or other government official — than stealing theirs.

In its 2016 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, released last week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said impostor scams surpassed identity theft for the first time, becoming the second most common category of consumer complaints.

Debt collection remained the top consumer gripe, generating 859,090 complaints (28 percent of the total) — more than the combined 406,578 reports about impostor scams and 399,225 for identity theft. In 2015, debt collection first overtook identity theft, which previously held the dubious top spot for 15 consecutive years. The FTC said the high number of reported debt-collection complaints was due, in part, to reports made to a mobile app by one of the agency’s data-collection partners.

At 3,050,374, overall complaints fell 3 percent from the record 3,140,803 set a year earlier. As with 2015, Florida remained the state with the highest per-capita rate of reported fraud and other types of complaints, followed by Georgia and Michigan. Per-capita rates for identity theft reports were highest in Michigan, Florida and Delaware.

The latest Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, at 102 pages, includes complaints made directly to the FTC, to various state and federal law enforcement agencies, and to other groups. It is used to help track and combat the leading scam trends. Other highlights:

  • Identity theft complaints declined slightly, from 16 percent of all complaints in 2015 to 13 percent, with 29 percent of 2016 consumers reporting that their data was used to commit tax fraud. There was a jump in citizens who reported that their stolen data was used for credit card fraud, from 16 percent in 2015 to more than 32 percent in 2016.
  • In terms of age, AARP-age (50 and older) Americans filed the most fraud complaints. Those in their 60s led all age groups, with 20 percent of complaints; followed by 50-somethings, at 18 percent; and those 70 and older, at 17 percent.
  • For identity theft, 20 percent of complaints were made by those in their 50s, 14 percent by those in their 60s and 6 percent by those in their 70s. (Those in their 30s and 40s filed 21 and 20 percent, respectively.)
  • A total of 662,209 consumers (51 percent of those filing complaints) reported losing $744.5 million through fraud in 2016, an average of $1,124 each. That’s an improvement over 2015, when 53 percent of complainants lost a combined $774 million and an average of $1,154 each. In 2014 the gotcha rate was 55 percent, with $1.7 billion lost and a per-victim average of $1,979.
  • The telephone remains the most-used tool to initiate scams. Among consumers reporting their initial contact method by fraudsters, 77 percent said it was by phone; that’s up from 54 percent two years earlier. Email, websites, snail mail and “other” tallied only single digits each, consistent with previous years.
  • Wire transfers remain the most popular method at 58 percent, following by credit cards, debits from bank accounts, and prepaid cards.

The top 10 complaint categories:

  1. Debt collection — 859,090 complaints (28 percent)
  2. Impostor scams — 406,578 (13 percent)
  3. Identity theft — 399,225 (13 percent)
  4. Telephone and mobile services — 292,155 (10 percent)
  5. Banks and lenders — 143,987 (5 percent)
  6. Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries — 141,643 (5 percent)
  7. Shop-at-home and catalog sales — 109,831 (4 percent)
  8. Auto-related complaints — 94,673 (3 percent)
  9. Credit bureaus, information furnishers and report users — 49,679 (2 percent)
  10. Television and electronic media — 49,546 (2 percent)

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: RomoloTavani/iStock

Also of Interest

  • Fraud speak — Learn the lingo to beat scammers
  • Beware of these smartphone scams
  • Get help: Find out if you’re eligible for public benefits with Benefits QuickLINK
  • Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being

See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia and more.

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