by Broderick Perkins
(3/18/2011) Erate Exclusive - For the 11th consecutive year, identity theft topped the Federal Trade Commission's Top Consumer Complaints list and something called "imposter scams" made the list for the first time.
You don't wander aimlessly like some John or Jane Doe, after someone steals your identity, according to the FTC.
ID theft involves someone pilfering enough of your personal identifying information -- name, address, Social Security Number, drivers license, credit and financial account numbers and the like -- to masquerade as you to make purchases, withdraw cash or otherwise undermine your financial assets and your name.
Of 1,339,265 complaints received in 2010, 250,854 — or 19 percent — were related to identity theft. Debt collection complaints were in second place, with 144,159 complaints, according to the FTC, which offers "Fighting Back Against Identity Theft" and "Debt Collection FAQs" to help consumers cope with the issues.
"The best protection against ID theft is vigilance. Consumers must check their credit on at least an annual basis, examining all three credit bureaus and if they are not in need of expanding their credit, a credit freeze is likely the best safeguard against fraud that is available today," said Nancy Osborne, chief operating officer of Erate.com, a Santa Clara, CA-based financial information publisher and interest rate tracker.
Next came internet services; prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries; then shop-at-home catalog sales, to round out the top five complaints received by the FTC last year.
Imposter scams showed up for the first time, quickly jumping to No. 6 on the list. Generating more than 60,000 complaints last year, imposter scams come with grifters posing as a people, agencies or companies you know and trust. They prey on that trust, using phone calls, emails, letters, faxes, even text messages to separate you from your money. They typically voice urgency, coaxing you to wire money or pay a fee to collect winnings.
To guard against imposters, the FTC offers "Spotting an Imposter."
Also on the list were internet auctions; foreign money/counterfeit check scams; telephone and mobile services, followed by credit cards, No. 10 on the list.
The FTC's top consumer complaints were:
|Rank||Category||Number of Complaints||Percentage|
|4||Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries||64,085||5%|
|5||Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales||60,205||4%|
|8||Foreign Money/Counterfeit Check Scams||43,866||3%|
|9||Telephone and Mobile Services||37,388||3%|
How can you avoid fraud?
Don't be a rub.
Don't wire money to strangers, to sellers insisting on wire transfers or to anyone who claims to be a relative in an emergency, but wants to keep the request secret.
Don't send money.
Likewise, don't send money in any form to anyone you don't know. That includes unknown online merchants and contacts made through a dating service asking for money. Use a credit card with protections from the issuer when you shop on line.
Use the delete key.
Don't respond to messages asking for personal or financial information. That includes email, phone calls, text messages and advertisements.
Don't gamble abroad.
It's illegal to play foreign lotteries and they don't pay off. Claims that "You've already won!" typically come with requests for you to pay "taxes," "fees" or "custom duties" to collect your winners. Money sent, is money spent. You won't get it back.
After a natural disaster, give only to established charities, rather than those that spring up over night.
Get a second opinion.
Don't buy health products or medical treatments without checking with your doctor. Buy prescription drugs only from U.S. pharmacies.
Shoo away "sure things."
Turn down pitches urging you to "act now" for low-risk, high-return investments. There is no such thing as a sure thing. If it appears too good to be true, it is.
Also visit the FTC's online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP to file a complaint or report questionable activity.