Identity theft tops list of consumer complaints

consumer complaints

Identity theft was once again the number one complaint from Americans this year, according the Federal Trade Commission's annual tally.

There's no doubt it's a scary situation when it happens. If a criminal gets his hands on some personal information, it can wreak havoc on your life. You might find mysterious charges on your credit card. Or a thief could file a tax return in your name, getting a bogus refund before you even know it.

None of this is a surprise. Massive data breaches that could lead to identity theft keep coming and, most recently, hackers hit insurance giant Anthem, stealing information on tens of millions of customers.

Related: Debt collection nightmares

But while identity theft is a huge issue, there's a growing threat from a different kind of scam: fraudsters pretending to be someone they're not as a way to get money from you.

While con artists sometimes impersonate a friend or family member asking for money, more complaints are about fraudsters claiming to be a government official, like an IRS agent.

Last year, the FTC got nearly 160,000 such complaints, or 100,000 more than in 2013.

The bad guys may call to say taxes are owed, getting the unknowing consumer to send them money.

The con may know the last four digits of your Social Security number and threaten arrest if you don't pay up, but consumers should be suspicious if this ever happens.

If you do in fact owe taxes, the IRS will first notify you via snail mail. And it won't ask you to wire money or pay with a debit card.

Rounding out the top five complaints of 2014 were problems with debt collectors, phone and cable companies, and banks.

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