Identity theft is top consumer complaint in 2007

Identity theft was the No. 1 consumer complaint nationwide and in New York State last year for the seventh year in a row, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission.

New Yorkers filed 19,319 identity-theft complaints last year, accounting for 32 percent of consumer complaints. The bulk of the cases involved phone, utilities and credit-card fraud. New York had the sixth-highest identity-theft rate among the 50 states, with 100 complaints for every 100,000 residents.

Nationwide, Americans filed nearly 814,000 complaints of consumer fraud and identity theft, according to a report compiled from the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel database of complaints collected from the FTC and more than 125 other organizations, including the FBI. Losses from consumer fraud exceeded $1.2 billion, the report said.

Tom Cohn, director of the FTC’s Northeast region, noted that President George W. Bush launched a task force in 2006 to coordinate efforts among various government agencies to combat identity theft.

After identity theft, the top complaints nationally and in the state are shop-at-home and catalog sales, Internet services and foreign-money offers.

The majority the cases of the fraud originated online — 49 percent via e-mail and 15 percent through Web sites.

Increasingly, thieves are luring consumers to send money via wire transfer, a transaction that consumers can’t reverse and is difficult to trace. Twenty-eight percent of consumer fraud complaints involved wire transfers as the payment method, up from 23 percent in 2006. Many times the money is sent abroad, said Johannes Ullrich, chief technology officer at the SANS Institute, a computer security educational organization in Bethesda, Md.

“What that reflects is the increase of these professional scams,” he said. “You don’t really have kids with their home computer doing it in their spare time.”

The Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York released the industries that received the top complaints on Long Island.

Financial services topped the list, mainly because of debt collection, said Claire Rosenzweig, president and chief executive of the bureau. Second was mail-order services, mainly consumers complaining about problems with magazine subscriptions, she said. No. 3 with complaints was the home improvement industry, involving credit, billing and workmanship, she said.

STATEWIDE FRAUD COMPLAINTS

Top consumer fraud complaints

ID theft 19,319

Home shopping/catalog sales 3,785

Internet services 2,332

Foreign money offers 1,720

Computer equipment, software 1,676

Internet auctions 1,659

More than 70% of fraud complaints involve ID theft

Top types of ID theft

Phone, utilities fraud 5,404

Credit card fraud 4,934

Government documents, benefits fraud 2,096

Bank fraud 1,942

Employment-related fraud 1,371

Loans fraud 901

54% of ID theft involves phone and credit card fraud

NOTE: Some victims report experiencing more than one type of theft.

SOURCE: FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION CONSUMER FRAUD AND IDENTITY THEFT COMPLAINT DATA

Florida Shredding