FTC: Impostor Scams Surpass ID Theft (but Debt Collection Remains Top Complaint)

FTC: Impostor Scams Surpass ID Theft (but Debt Collection Remains Top Complaint)

More Americans last year complained about scammers playing an identity – most often, that of an IRS or other government official – than stealing theirs.

In its 2016 Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book released last week, the Federal Trade Commission says imposter scams surpassed identity theft for the first time, becoming the second most common category of consumer complaints.

Debt collection remained the top consumer gripe, generating 859,090 (28 percent) of all complaints – more than the combined 406,578 reports about imposter scams and 399,225 for identity theft. In 2015, debt collection first overtook identity theft, which previously held the dubious top spot for 15 consecutive years. The FTC says the high number of reported debt collection complaints was due, in part, to reports made to a mobile app by one of the agency’s data collection partners.

At 3,050,374, overall complaints fell 3 percent from the record 3,140,803 set a year earlier. As with 2015, Florida remained the state with the highest per-capita rate of reported fraud and other types of complaints, followed by Georgia and Michigan. Per-capita rates for identity theft reports were highest in Michigan, Florida and Delaware.

Other highlights of the latest 102-page Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, which includes complaints made directly to the FTC, various state and federal law enforcement agencies and other groups, and is used to help track and combat the leading scam trends:

  • Identity theft complaints slightly declined, from 16 percent in 2015 to 13 percent – with 29 percent of 2016 consumers reporting that their data was used to commit tax fraud. There was a jump in citizens who reported that their stolen data was used for credit card fraud; from 16 percent in 2015 to more than 32 percent in 2016.
  • Age-wise, AARP-aged Americans filed the most fraud complaints. Those in their 60s led all age groups with 20 percent of complaints, followed by 50-somethings at 18 percent and those 70 and older at 17 percent.
  • For identity theft, 20 percent of complaints were made by those in their 50s, 14 percent in their 60s and 6 percent in their 70s. (Those in their 30s and 40s filed 21 and 20 percent, respectively.)
  • A total of 662,209 consumers – 51 percent of those filing complaints – reported losing $744.5 million through fraud in 2016, an average $1,124 each. That’s an improvement over 2015, when 53 percent of complainants lost a combined $774 million and $1,154 average. In 2014, the gotcha rate was 55 percent, with $1.7 billion lost and per-victim average of $1,979.
  • The telephone remains the most used tool to initiate scams. Among consumers reporting their initial contact method by fraudsters, 77 percent say it was by phone; that’s up from 54 percent two years earlier. Email, websites, snail mail and “other” each tallied only single digits, consistent with previous years.
  • Wire transfers remain the most popular method at 58 percent, following by credit cards, debits from bank accounts, and prepaid cards.

The top 10 complaint categories:

  1. Debt Collection – 859,090 complaints (28%)
  2. Imposter Scams — 406,578 (13%)
  3. Identity Theft — 399,225 (13%)
  4. Telephone and Mobile Services – 292,155 (10%)
  5. Banks and Lenders – 143,987 (5%)
  6. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries – 141,643 (5%)
  7. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales – 109,831 (4%)
  8. Auto-Related Complaints – 94,673 (3%)
  9. Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers and Report Users – 49,679 (2%)
  10. Television and Electronic Media – 49,546 (2%)


For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.

Photo: RomoloTavani/iStock

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