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IDENTITY THEFT: TOP CONSUMER FRAUD COMPLAINT OF 2001

Source: Center for Social & Legal Research and Privacy & American Business

Posted on January 28, 2002

      Identity theft was the leading consumer fraud complaint reported in 2001, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

      Of the 204,000 complaints compiled by the FTC, 42% involved identity theft. Credit card fraud accounted for 42% of identity theft complaints, followed by scams where phone or utility accounts were created in a person's name without his or her knowledge. The figures come from a government database that collects complaints from more than 50 law enforcement and consumer groups.

      The high number of identity theft complaints in 2001 may partly reflect the FTC's emphasis on investigating this kind of fraud and its use of a toll-free number for those complaints, said Howard Beales, the agency's director of consumer protection. He said consumers should avoid leaving their credit card receipts where they could be found and writing their Social Security numbers on checks.

      "In the bulk of the cases, the consumer doesn't know how their identity got stolen,'' Beales said. The FTC's identity theft hot line gets about 1,700 calls weekly.

      Privacy advocates have said the number of people victimized by identity theft may be as high as 750,000 a year. Most victims of identity theft eventually recoup their lost money, but they also suffer damage to their credit records and invasion of privacy.

      The FTC's Identity Theft site can be accessed at: www.consumer.gov/idtheft/




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