FTC Testifies on Identity Theft and the Impact on Seniors

The Federal Trade Commission today told the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging that about 10 percent of consumers who called the agency to report that they are victims of identity theft are age 60 or older. J. Howard Beales III, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the panel that although there are some differences in what senior identity theft victims are reporting to the agency, overall, their experiences are similar to the experiences of other consumers.

The testimony says that in 2001, the agency received 117,000 consumer contacts from both victims of identity theft and others concerned about identity theft. Of the 117,000 contacts, 75 percent, or 86,000, reported that they were victims of identity theft, and their complaints were entered into the FTC's ID Theft Clearinghouse database. Forty-eight separate federal agencies and three hundred 335 different state and local agencies have access to the database, and the FTC uses database information to develop case leads for criminal law enforcers. In coordination with the United States Secret Service, an FTC identity theft team examines patterns of identity theft activity, develops investigative reports and refers them to Financial Crimes Task Forces across the country for further investigation and potential prosecution.

While identity theft complaints to the agency more than doubled from 2000 to 2001, the testimony states that those numbers do not necessarily correspond to an equal increase in identity theft in the population - but may, in part, represent a greater consumer awareness of the FTC as a resource for identity theft victims. Consumers report identity theft to the FTC using the agency's toll-free help line at 1-877-IDTheft, or its online complaint form at www.ftc.gov.

The FTC has taken the lead in developing and coordinating consumer education materials with other government agencies and private organizations. The FTC's multi-media consumer education campaign includes print materials, media mailings, and interviews as well as the Identity Theft Web site located at www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Other organizations, such as AARP, link directly to the FTC site, and other governmental agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and the FDIC reprint and distribute the FTC consumer education booklet on identity theft.

The testimony states that agency findings about identity theft experiences in consumers over 60 include:

  • Credit Card Fraud: About 52 percent of identity theft victims over 60 years of age reported that either new credit card accounts were opened in their name or that someone took over an existing account. The testimony says credit card fraud is the leading form of identity theft reported to the agency.
  • Telecommunications or Utility Fraud: About 15 percent of senior victims report that an identity thief obtained unauthorized telecommunications or utility equipment or services in their name. The testimony says that frequently this type of fraud involves the purchase of cellular phones and service.
  • Bank Fraud and Fraudulent Loans: About 10 percent of all victims over age 60 reported fraud involving their checking or saving accounts and seven percent reported that an identity thief obtained a loan in their name.
  • Employment Fraud: About two percent of victims over age 60 reported that an identity thief used their personal information for employment purposes. For consumers under the age 60, the testimony says, identity thieves use personal information to commit employment fraud eight percent of the time.
  • Government Documents or Benefits Fraud: About three percent of victims over 60 reported that the identity thief obtained government benefits or forged or obtained government documents in their name, as compared to seven percent for those under 60.
  • Attempted Identity Theft: Almost 20 percent of victims over age 60 reported that someone had attempted to misuse their information in comparison to almost 11 percent of victims under 60.

"Our response to identity theft must continue to focus on consumer education, support of law enforcement and cooperation with the private sector in identifying ways to protect consumers from this serious crime," the testimony says.

The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0.

Copies of the testimony are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov . The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2181
Staff Contact:
Lois C. Greisman
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-3404