Identity theft headed the top 10 consumer fraud complaints of 2001, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Identity theft accounted for 42 percent of the 204,000 complaints entered into the FTC's Consumer Sentinel database last year. The top 10 list of consumer fraud complaints includes:
- Identity Theft (42%)
- Internet Auctions (10%)
- Internet Services and Computer Complaints (7%)
- Shop-at-Home and Catalog Offers (6%)
- Advance Fee Loans and Credit Protection (5%)
- Prizes/Sweepstakes/Gifts (4%)
- Business Opportunities and Work at Home Plans (4%)
- Foreign Money Offers (4%)
- Magazines and Buyers Clubs (3%)
- Telephone Pay-Per-Call/Information Services (2%)
"Consumers who report their complaints to the FTC are helping law enforcement find and stop rip-off artists," said Howard Beales, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The complaints in the Consumer Sentinel database are a valuable tool for state and federal consumer protection agencies that investigate and prosecute fraud."
Consumers can file a fraud complaint with the FTC by calling toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or online at www.ftc.gov. Consumers can file identity theft reports by calling 1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-438-4338).
Consumer Sentinel is a central database collecting complaints from more than 50 law enforcement and private sector partners. Leading data contributors include the National Fraud Information Center, Canada's Phonebusters, the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, and numerous local Better Business Bureaus. Consumer Sentinel is also a secure online cybertool and fraud complaint database that helps more than 400 law enforcement agencies fight fraud. Leading law enforcement partners in this effort include the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI, and the National Association of Attorneys General.
The FTC has tips to help consumers who want to protect themselves from fraud and deception:
- Protect your personal information. It's a valuable commodity. Only share your credit card or other personal information when you're buying from a company you know and trust.
- Know who you're dealing with. Walk away from any company that doesn't clearly state its name, physical address and telephone number. A Web site alone or a mail box drop should raise suspicions.
- Don't rely on oral promises. Get all promises in writing and review them carefully before you make any payments or sign any contracts. Read and understand the fine print in any written agreement.
- Don't pay "up-front" for a loan or credit. Remember that legitimate lenders never "guarantee" a loan or a credit card before you apply, especially if you have bad credit, no credit, or a bankruptcy.
For more information on the Consumer Sentinel database and a list of the top fraud categories by state, visit www.consumer.gov/sentinel.
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 consumer issues, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP, or use the complaint form at 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.
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Bureau of Consumer Protection