Feature Article
Mark Pribish
ID Theft is top FTC consumer complaint for the 13th consecutive year
By Mark Pribish
Vice President and ID Theft Practice Leader

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its annual ID Theft and Fraud report (read the report here) where identity theft is the top FTC consumer complaint for the 13th consecutive year.

The February 2013 FTC report of complaints - known as the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book - found that 2012 was the first year in which the FTC received more than 2 million complaints, of which 369,132, or 18% were related to identity theft. Taxpayer or wage-related ID Theft complaints totaled 43% of all identity theft complaints.

The FTC Consumer Sentinel Data Book report included the following identity theft trends and statistics:

  • ID Theft Complaints by State - with the top 10 states including Florida, Georgia, California, Michigan, New York, Nevada, Texas, Arizona, Maryland, and Illinois
  • ID Theft Complaints by Age - with the single largest demographic of victims by age being 20-29 years old.

    • 19 years old and under - 6%
    • 20-29 years old - 21%
    • 30-39 years old - 19%
    • 40-49 years old - 18%
    • 50-59 years old - 17%
    • 60-69 years old - 11%
    • 70 years old and over - 8%

  • How ID Theft Victim Information is Misused - where only 22.2% ID Theft victims were related to a financial event and 77.8% of ID Theft victims were related to a non-financial event
  • Government Documents/Benefits Fraud - at 46% was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by credit card fraud (13%), phone or utilities fraud (10%), and bank fraud (6%). Other significant categories of identity theft reported by victims were employment-related fraud (5%) and loan fraud (2%).

Based on the increase in government/benefits fraud and a 2012 audit by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration - which found that the IRS could lose as much as $21 billion in revenue over the next five years due to identity theft - the IRS reported how it is responding to its ID theft problem by completing what it called a massive national sweep targeting 389 suspects in 32 states and Puerto Rico.

In addition, the IRS identified the top "high-risk" cities in the United States which include New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Tampa, Miami, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, El Paso, Tucson, Birmingham, Detroit, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

As a result of the epidemic of taxpayer ID Theft and fraud, the IRS issued its "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams (see the list here) highlighting fraudulent schemes commonly committed by and upon taxpayers.

The annual warning was released to coincide with tax filing season and emphasizes the most common schemes involving filing false returns or return items and it also advises vigilance throughout the year against practices that target senior citizens and young adults.

For more tips on spotting and stopping identity theft, the FTC offers this website to help you better understand and take steps to limit the harm from identity theft.


To learn more about these threats and how to protect yourself and your family from Identity Theft, you can read my past newsletters at the Merchants Identity Theft Educational Website at www.idtheftedu.com.

Scam Central

Software Support Scams, Again!

We have discussed the software support scam before, but it bears repeating, especially as new variations continue to crop up. In our previous example, a supposed Microsoft® support technician would call your home and offer to help fix your computer's issues, remove viruses, or speed up your computer system. This month's scam is very similar in nature and shows that no matter the spin on the scam, the results are always the same; you lose money, and risk becoming a victim of identity theft.

How It Works:

You receive a phone call from someone stating they are a software support technician from some software support company and they ask if you have certain vendor's software installed on your home computer. They may run through various vendor names until you say yes. When they eventually get to whichever software you do have installed, they indicate that there are known issues with the software and that your computer may be at risk for viruses. They will ask you to run a simple command from a prompt. Upon running the command, the caller informs you that unfortunately you do have some issues that need to be resolved immediately, and that as it happens, they can help you over the phone, for a fee! You provide the payment and your personal information up front, and they will help you fix your issues.

While there are thousands of legitimate technical support companies that offer this type of support, it is unlikely that they do cold calling for new customers. They more than likely handle inbound calls only. For tech savvy computer users, the benign command this caller will ask you to run from a prompt should be enough to tip you off that this is a scam. This is especially true if the command does nothing more than list the directories on your system. However, the average computer user may not have a clue what they are doing and therefore may be caught off-guard and tricked into revealing personal information.

Your Defense:

Learning to identify variations of this particular type of scam can help keep you, your money, and your identity safe in the future as this scam is likely to morph again over time. Usually, in these types of scams:

  1. The caller will claim to be some sort of support technician and ask if you have certain software installed on your computer.
  2. The caller will want you to run a system command that should identify any problems.
  3. The caller will inform you that your computer has some serious issues that they can help resolve right then, for a fee.
  4. You will be asked to provide payment information over the phone.
  5. You may be asked to provide other Personal Identifiable Information (PII) such as a Social Security Number, birth date, etc.

Never give out your credit card, bank account, or other sensitive information to anyone that calls you without you initiating contact. Hang up immediately and contact the local police. The more information you provide to the caller, the greater the chances that you may become a victim of identity theft. While the caller may be fake, the pain you will feel later is all too real.

If you believe your identity has been stolen, call 866.SMART68 today.