Identity thefts tops list of consumer complaints

@CNNMoney March 4, 2012: 8:31 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- For the 12th year in a row, identity theft was the number one consumer complaint -- irking consumers more than debt collectors, imposter scams and shady credit repair companies.

Out of the more than 1.8 million complaints the Federal Trade Commission received last year, 15% -- or 279,156 -- were about identity theft. The FTC's database includes complaints filed directly to the FTC, as well as complaints from other state and federal consumer protection organizations.

Most identity theft complaints came from people reporting that their personal information was stolen and used in government documents -- often to collect government benefits. Complaints about government document-related identity theft have increased 11% since 2009 and represented 27% of identity theft complaints last year. Credit card fraud was next, making up 14% of identity theft complaints, followed by phone or utilities fraud and bank fraud.

Of the people filing identity theft complaints, 70% notified a police department, the FTC found. Florida has the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft in 2011, followed by Georgia and California.

After identity theft, consumers filed the most complaints about debt collection, which made up 10% of total complaints last year. Next on the list were complaints about prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries, followed by shop-at-home and catalog sales. Financial services and lending, including banks and lenders, advance-fee loans and credit protection and repair services, were prominent among the top 10 complaints, as were issues with internet, telephone and mobile service providers and charges.

Other top 10 complaints included auto-related issues, including misleading auto warranties, repair and maintenance issues and price gouging. Imposter scams, where scammers pose as friends, family, government agencies or companies to trick consumers into sending them money, were also on the list.

Overall, 55% of complaints were fraud-related last year. Consumers reported paying more than $1.5 billion in fraudulent schemes, and the median amount paid was $537. About 43% of consumers said scammers contacted them by e-mail.

Colorado had the highest per capita rate of reported fraud and other complaints, followed by Delaware and Maryland.

In general, the FTC found that consumers either had more to complain about or were just more willing to file complaints. The total number of consumer complaints -- including both fraud- and identity theft-related complaints -- has jumped more than 20% from 1.5 million in 2010 to 1.8 million last year.

Here are the the top 10 consumer complaints, according to the FTC:

  1. Identity theft
  2. Debt collection
  3. Prizes, sweepstakes, lotteries
  4. Shop-at-home, catalog sales
  5. Banks and lenders
  6. Internet services
  7. Auto-related complaints
  8. Impostor scams
  9. Telephone and mobile services
  10. Advance-fee loans and credit protection/repair
  11.  To top of page
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