Dig deep into the Federal Trade Commission’s new 100-page annual report on consumer complaints, and you’ll find some clues about how identity thieves are fleecing victims of their hard-earned cash.
The outlines 250,854 reports of identity theft. The most common type of identity theft, tax- or wage-related fraud, accounted for 15.5 percent of those complaints. That’s up from 12.7 percent in 2009.
“There are indications from the report that low-hanging fruit—easy crimes like Dumpster-diving—may be waning as banks impose tighter account security and more people check their accounts online,” said Adam Levin, Identity Theft 911 chairman and co-founder. “The trend is toward more sophisticated kinds of fraud such as tax and employment documents.”
The Sentinel report chronicles a total of 1.3 million complaints made by consumers in 2010, and for the 11th straight year, identity theft led all categories, at 19 percent. The second-most-reported complaint was related to debt collection (11 percent), followed by Internet services and prizes/sweepstakes/lotteries (5 percent).
A new category, “impostor scams,” entered the charts at No. 6, with 4 percent. This kind of crime happens when a thief pretends to be a loved one asking for money, using a ruse like the old “I’m stuck in Rio for Mardi Gras and need airfare home” routine.
Swindlers targeted the South and states bordering Mexico: The top five states for identity theft were Florida, Arizona, California, Georgia and Texas.
The area of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach was the hardest-hit metropolitan center in the United States for identity theft, edging out Brownsville and Harlingen, Texas.
If you’re thinking old folks are the easiest marks, think again: For the third straight year, the highest concentration of victims (24 percent) came from the 20- to 29-year-old age group. The oldest group analyzed, age 70 and over, accounted for just 5 percent of the total, consistent with past years.
There are a few dashes of good news in the report: Among them, victims are calling in the cavalry more often. In 2008, only 36 percent of victims notified police; the following year, the figure jumped to 73 percent, and in 2010 it held steady at 72 percent.
“This reflects greater awareness of the right things to do and being more aggressive in addressing identity theft,” said Brian McGinley, Identity Theft 911 senior vice president of data risk management.