FTC’s Northeast Region Releases Top Complaint Categories in 2012

The Federal Trade Commission’s Northeast Region today announced the release of the FTC’s annual Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book detailing the number of consumer complaints, including those relating to identity theft, consumer fraud and deception.

The Data Book lists the categories of complaints from the nation and New York State filed with the FTC in 2012. For the thirteenth year in a row, identity theft topped the list of complaints filed nationally, accounting for 18 percent of the over two million complaints logged into the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database in 2012.

Other top complaints include Debt Collection (10 percent), Banks and Lenders (6 percent), Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales (6 percent), Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries (5 percent), and Imposter Scams (4 percent). The FTC’s announcement coincides with National Consumer Protection Week, March 3-9, which highlights tools to assist consumers to recognize and protect themselves against fraud and deception.

The data book for the first time broke out complaints related to Payday Loans as a subcategory of the Banks and Lenders’ complaint group, which was third on the list of top complaints behind Identity Theft and Debt Collection. Payday Loans have been a focus of FTC law enforcement and consumer education efforts for the past several years, since they are often targeted towards some of the most vulnerable consumers, and can lead to other types of unfair and deceptive practices, including identity theft, abusive debt collection, and unauthorized billing.

“Consumers who need cash quickly may be tempted to take out payday loans. However, these loans can be very expensive and borrowers can end up paying much more than the stated cost of their loans,” said William H. Efron, Director of the FTC’s Northeast Region. “Consumers should try to find an alternative to payday loans, including a small loan from a credit union or asking their creditors for more time to make payments.

“As part of National Consumer Protection Week,” added Efron, “we are very pleased to join the BBB Serving Metropolitan New York, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the New York State Office of Attorney General, New York State Department of State, the New York State Department of Financial Services, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, AARP, NeighborWorks America, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to help consumers learn about their rights and avoid frauds and scams.”

The national top categories of complaints (along with percentage of total complaints) in 2012 included:

Identity Theft 18 percent
Debt Collection  10 percent
Banks and Lenders 6 percent
Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales 6 percent
Prizes, Sweepstakes, and Lotteries  5 percent

The FTC received 103,827 complaints from New York State consumers, up more than 10,000 from the previous year. Identity theft was again the top category with 21,538 consumers reporting some form of identity theft in 2012. In addition, Consumer Sentinel recorded 82,289 other complaints originating from New York consumers.

The top categories of non-identity theft consumer complaints from New York State consumers (along with percentage of total complaints) in 2012 included:

Debt Collection 10 percent
Banks and Lenders 9 percent
Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales 7 percent
Telephone and Mobile Services 6 percent
Internet Services  5 percent

Other national findings from the report include:

  • The number of complaints the FTC received continued to increase in 2012, to more than 2 million complaints, with consumers reporting losses of over $1.4 billion to fraud-related conduct.
  • Debt Collection continues to be the top non-identity-theft complaint category, with almost 200,000 complaints in 2012, over 13,000 more complaints than in 2011.
  • The most common form of identity theft was government documents/benefits fraud, which comprised 53 percent of identity theft complaints in 2012, much higher than the 27 percent reported in 2011.
  • Of those fraud-related complaints where consumers reported the company’s method of initial contact, 38 percent of the complaints indicated that initial contact was via email, while 34 percent stated that initial contact was by phone.

The FTC hosts a website for National Consumer Protection Week at NCPW.gov, where consumers can find useful tips and tools to protect themselves against deceptive practices and scams.

The FTC also recently unveiled its new consumer education portal, consumer.gov, with useful information on various topics including payday loans and cash advances. In addition, the FTC has published consumer alerts on payday loans and online payday loans on its website.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.


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