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The Federal Trade Commission has released its annual report detailing consumer complaints about identity theft and listing the top 10 fraud complaint categories reported by consumers in 2003. For the fourth year in a row, identity theft topped the list, accounting for 42 percent of the complaints lodged in the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database. The FTC received more than half a million complaints in 2003, up from 404,000 in 2002, and Internet-related complaints accounted for 55 percent of all fraud reports, up from 45 percent in 2002.

Howard Beales, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection noted that in addition to the complaints consumers register directly with the FTC, other organizations, including the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, The National Consumers League’s National Fraud Information Center, Canada’s Phonebusters, and Better Business Bureaus contribute complaint data to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database.

“More than 900 law enforcement agencies in the U.S., Canada, and Australia are using Consumer Sentinel, accessing one-and-a-half million consumer complaints through the Sentinel network,” Beales said. “They can coordinate actions, track down leads, and research other law enforcement tools. This model – one central source of consumer fraud data available to law enforcement, reflecting overall trends in fraud, ID theft, and emerging scams – is making our work more efficient for law enforcement and more effective for consumers.”

The top 10 categories of consumer fraud complaints in 2003 include:

  • Internet Auctions - 15 percent

  • Shop-at-Home/Catalog Sales - 9 percent

  • Internet Services and Computer Complaints - 6 percent

  • Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries - 5 percent

  • Foreign Money Offers - 4 percent

  • Advance Fee Loans and Credit Protection - 4 percent

  • Telephone Services - 3 percent

  • Business Opportunities and Work-at-Home Plans - 2 percent

  • Magazine Buyers Clubs - 1 percent

  • Office Supplies and Services - 1 percent

Other findings from the report include the following:

  • Of the 516,740 complaints received in 2003, 301,835 were complaints about fraud and 214,905 were identity theft reports.

  • Identity theft reports represented 42 percent of all complaints, up from 40 percent in 2002.

  • The median loss for victims of fraud was $228.

  • The median loss for victims of Internet-related fraud was $195.

  • The major metropolitan areas with the highest per capita rates of consumer fraud reported were Washington, DC; Seattle/Bellevue/Everett, WA; and San Diego, CA. Higher reporting of fraud does not necessarily indicate a higher overall incidence.

  • The major metropolitan areas with the highest per capita rates of ID theft reported were Phoenix/Mesa, AZ; Los Angeles/Long Beach, CA; and Riverside/San Bernardino, CA.

Copies of the FTC report, “National and State Trends in Fraud and Identity Theft,” can be found online at

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 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 or Jennifer Schwartzman
Office of Public Affairs