Reports of identity theft topped the list of consumer complaints to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2010, the 11th straight year that ID theft has been at the top, the agency said Tuesday.
The FTC and its partners received 1.34 million consumer complaints during 2010, with ID theft complaints making up 19 percent of the reports. Debt collection complaints ranked second, at 11 percent, with complaints about Internet services, Internet auctions and telephone and mobile services also in the top 10 complaint categories.
It's unclear how many of the ID theft complaints are related to Internet activity. "Most people don't know how their identity was stolen," said FTC spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell. "If you lose your wallet on Monday and Tuesday someone starts using your cards, you have a pretty good educated guess. Otherwise you don't. And how would you know if someone stole your identity on the Internet?"
ID theft made up 20 percent of the 1.38 million complaints the FTC received in 2009 and 25 percent of the 1.24 million complaints the agency received in 2008. This past year was only the second time since 2001 that the FTC has received fewer consumer complaints than the year before.
As in past years, more than half of the consumers reporting fraud-related complaints said they paid no money in the situations that prompted the complaints, the FTC said in its annual report on consumer complaints. But 22 percent of the complaints were related to transactions of US$501 or more, with 4 percent involving transactions of more than $5,000.
The FTC classified 54 percent of the complaints it received as fraud of various types. ID theft is not included in the fraud numbers. Fraud losses reported by consumers were about $1.7 billion, up slightly from 2009.
About 45 percent of the fraud cases started with an e-mail contact, the FTC said. Eleven percent of the fraud cases originated from websites, while 19 percent came from phone calls.
The FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network is an online database available to law enforcement agencies. The network receives complaints filed directly to the FTC, plus complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, Better Business Bureaus, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Identity Theft Assistance Center, and the National Fraud Information Center, and other groups.
This year, the FTC began receiving complaints from four states, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Publishers Clearing House, MoneyGram International and PrivacyStar.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.