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Imposter scams move up to second place on FTC consumer complaint list

Imposter scam complaints rose to second place, overtaking identity theft for the first time as the second most common category of consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission.

Although debt collection complaints declined slightly between 2015 and 2016, they remained the top complaint category, making up 28 percent of all complaints.

The rise in impostor scam reports is due to increased complaints about government imposters. Imposter scams are varied, but work the same way: a scammer pretends to be someone trustworthy, such as a government official or computer technician, to convince a consumer to send money.

Identity theft complaints declined from 16 percent in 2015 to 13 percent in 2016, with 29 percent of 2016 consumers reporting that their data was used to commit tax fraud. There was a jump in those consumers who reported that their stolen data was used for credit card fraud; from nearly 16 percent in 2015 to more than 32 percent in 2016.

The latest complaint figures show that imposter scams are a serious and growing problem, said Thomas Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

The most widely reported method of payment for those who reported losing money to fraud was a wire transfer, 58 percent. Seventy-seven percent of consumers who had fraud complaints said their first contact was by phone.

The FTC urges consumers to be wary of any caller asking for a wire transfer. The government doesn't ask consumers to wire money, and it's illegal for telemarketers to ask you to pay by wire, said Pahl. Consumers who get a suspicious call should take time to check it out. Call the government agency on a phone line you know to be real - not the phone number given by the suspicious caller, he said. 

In 2016, the Consumer Sentinel Network collected more than 3.1 million consumer complaints, which the FTC has organized into 30 top categories. As for 2015, Florida, Georgia, and Michigan were the top three states for fraud and other complaints, while Michigan, Florida, and Delaware were the top three states for identity theft complaints.

The top 10 complaint categories are:

 

Number of complaints

Percentages

Debt Collection    

859,090

28

Impostor Scams

406,578

13

Identity Theft 

399,225

13

Telephone and Mobile Services

  292,155

10

Banks and Lenders

  143,987

  5

Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries

  141,643

  5

Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales

  109,831

  4

Auto-Related Complaints

    94,673 

  3

Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers and Report Users

    49,679

  2

Television and Electronic Media

49,546

  2

 
Copyright 2017, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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