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Top Consumer Fraud Complaints in 2012


There was a record number of consumer complaints in 2012, the majority of which were fraud related. The number one complaint has held the top spot for three years running and is a particular concern this time of the year.

More than 2 million complaints were reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2012, according to the annual report.

The complaints were sorted into 30 different categories by the FTC, which uses the Consumer Sentinel Network to record complaints throughout the year. Overall, though, the complaints received during 2012 broke down broadly into:

52% fraud complaints

18% identity theft complaints

30% other types

Consumers reported paying more than $1.4 billion in fraud-related complaints with the $535 as the median amount paid. The most common form of reported identity theft was government documents/benefits (46%), followed by credit card fraud (13%).

Overwhelmingly, wire transfers were the most common method of consumer payment for fraud complaints. Nearly half (47%) of fraud complaints were reportedly paid by wire transfer. Credit cards were a distant second with 17%.

Consumers ages 50 to 59 reported the most fraud complaints (23%), which has been a flat percentage over the last three years. However, consumers ages 60 to 69 saw the largest increase in fraud reports from just 7% in 2010 to 17% in 2012.

Florida and Georgia take the top two spots, respectively, for both fraud and identity theft complaints. Meanwhile, South Dakota reported the least complaints for both categories.

Health care complaints ranked fourteenth with just 25 of complaints while investment-related complaints came in at 26 with less than 1% of overall complaints in 2012.

Go to the next page to see the top 10.

10. Credit Cards

No. of complaints: 51,550

Percentage: 3%

Description: Account or billing issues, including interest rate changes, late fees, credit disputes, and overcharges; fraudulent credit card offers/phishing attempts; etc.

9. Telephone and mobile services

No. of complaints: 76,783

Percentage: 4%

Description: Complaints about charges for calls to "toll-free" numbers; unauthorized charges such as charges for calls consumers didn’t make; unauthorized switching of consumers’ phone service provider; misleading pre-paid phone card offers; unsolicited mobile text messages; problems with mobile applications or downloads; other mobile device problems; etc.

8. Auto-related complaints

No. of complaints: 78,062

Percentage: 4%

Description: Misleading or deception claims regarding auto warranties; repair/maintenance issues with newly purchased used or new cars, including dissatisfaction with service provided by auto mechanics; price fixing and price gouging concerns against gas stations and oil companies; etc.

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7. Internet services

No. of complaints: 81,438

Percentage: 4%

Description: Problems with trial offers from Internet Service Providers ("ISPs "); difficulty canceling an ISP account; issues with Internet entertainment services, Internet gaming, and social networking services; undisclosed charges; website design and hosting services; spyware, adware, and malware issues; etc.

6. Impostor scams

No. of complaints: 82,896

Percentage: 4%

Description: Complaints about scammers claiming to be friends, family, a romantic interest, companies or government agencies to induce people to send money or divulge personal information. Complaints include the following: scammers posing as friends or relatives stranded in foreign countries without money; scammers claiming to be working for or affiliated with a government agency; and scammers claiming to be affiliated with a private entity (e.g. a charity or company).

5. Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries

No. of complaints: 98,479

Percentage: 5%

Description: Promotions for "free" prizes for a fee; foreign lotteries and s weeps takes offered through the phone, fax, e-mail or mail; etc.

4. Shop-at-home and catalog sales

No. of complaints: 115,184

Percentage: 6%

Description: Problems, such as undisclosed costs, failure to deliver on time, non-delivery, and refusal to honor a guarantee, with purchases made via the Internet (not including auction sales), telephone, or mail.

3. Banks and lenders

No. of complaints: 132,340

Percentage: 6%

Description: Deceptive or predatory mortgage lending practices; problems with modification of mortgage terms; miscellaneous customer service and account issues with bank products, including fees and overdraft charges; etc.

2. Debt collection

No. of complaints: 199,721

Percentage: 10%

Description: Debt collector calls repeatedly or continuously; falsely represents the amount or status of debt; fails to send written notice of debt; falsely threatens suit; uses profane language; fails to identify self as debt collector; and/or violates other provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

1. Identity theft

No. of complaints: 369,132

Percentage: 18%

Description: When someone appropriates your personal identifying information (like your Social Security number or credit card account number) to commit fraud or theft.

The top complaint for three years running, more than 43% of identity theft complaints were tax- or wage-related fraud. (See the IRS’ “Dirty Dozen” tax scams that are most popular during filing season.) Florida, Georgia and California had the highest per capita rates of reported identity theft complaints.

For state-by-state complaint information and further data on individual complaint categories, read the full report here. (PDF)

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