Consumer Fraud Complaints up 20 Percent in 2007; Identity Theft the Top Complaint, Gov't Says

By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER | AP Business Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Americans reported 20 percent more cases of consumer fraud in 2007 than the year before, with nearly a third of complaints related to identity theft, the government said Wednesday.

Out of some 810,000 cases of consumer fraud reported, the Federal Trade Commission said there were more than 258,000 instances of identity theft, the top complaint for the eighth year in a row.

But most of the increase in complaints stemmed from other types of fraud, including shop-at-home and catalog sales, Internet services, and "foreign money offers."

The annual report is based on data collected by the FTC and 125 other organizations, including law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, and private groups such as the Better Business Bureau. The FTC said the increase in complaints this year comes "primarily (from) the Better Business Bureaus."

Consumer frauds, not including identity theft, cost consumers approximately $1.24 billion, up slightly from $1.18 billion in 2006. The FTC did not estimate losses from identity theft.

Identity theft, which involves the use of personal information such as credit card or Social Security numbers to commit fraud or other crimes, made up 32 percent of the total complaints, the FTC said.

The slight increase in identity theft complaints contradicts the results of a nationwide survey released this week by Javelin Research, which found identity theft declined in 2007. Javelin estimates that 8.1 million Americans were victims of ID fraud in 2007, down from 8.4 million a year earlier and 10.1 million in 2003.

The total cost of ID fraud also dropped, the Javelin study found, to $45 billion from $51 billion a year earlier and $56 billion in 2003.

The FTC says its report is not equivalent to a national survey and doesn't necessarily reflect broader trends.

Among the FTC's identity theft complaints, credit card fraud was the most common, accounting for 23 percent of reports, followed by utilities fraud at 18 percent and employment fraud at 14 percent.

The other leading categories of consumer fraud complaints received by the FTC were: catalog and shop-at-home sales, which spurred more than 62,800 complaints; Internet services, at 42,200; foreign money offers, with more than 32,800; and rounding out the top five, prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries, which were the subject of 32,100 complaints.

The metropolitan areas with the highest per capita rates of consumer fraud complaints are Albany-Lebanon, Ore.; Greeley, Colo.; and Napa, Calif.

The areas with the highest rates of reported identity theft are: Napa, Calif.; Madera, Calif.; and Greeley, Colo.

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