Identity theft complaints soared in 2011

Fraudsters hitting military personnel hard

By Robert E. Holtfreter, Ph.D, CFE, CICA




Identity theft is alive and thriving. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel Network reports a significant increase in complaints. 

On July 1, in Rankin County, Miss., three men were indicted after police, during a traffic stop, discovered 485 credit cards and gift cards hidden behind their car's dashboard. The defendants' names were on some of the cards, but when police scanned the cards' magnetic strips, names of other credit card holders came up. 

On Aug. 2, 2011, the U.S. Secret Service joined forces with the Gallatin, Tenn., police department to investigate reports of 94 incidents of fraudulent credit card charges of $90 to $100 each originating from a Florida business. Fraudsters used all the victim's cards in the Volunteer State Community College area. Investigators believed the perpetrators collected the victims' card data via a card skimmer inside an area card swipe machine.

These actual examples are representative of the thousands of identity theft cases that victims report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and are listed in its Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) Data Book, which it began in 1997.

According to the CSN, it received more than 28,000 additional identity theft complaints in 2011 from 2010 (251,105 to 279,156) — a sizeable increase. Though the figures have fluctuated yearly, we can make one conclusion: Identity theft hasn't abated, and will continue to be a major problem for consumers and businesses.

A new feature in the 2011 CSN report is the inclusion of complaint data for military consumers. The military consumer complaint data is included in several tables incorporating complaints by consumer military branch, pay grade and status.

Identity theft complaints for military consumers totaled 4,976 or 27 percent of their total complaints compared to 15 percent for the general population. Identity theft fraud complaints were similar for enlisted and officer military with 31 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Compared to the general population, it's quite obvious that the military consumers are having significantly more problems with identity theft issues. 


The CSN figures actually might be quite low; most identity theft victims still don't report their experiences to the FTC or any law enforcement agency. Also, many law enforcement agencies don't share their complaint data with the FTC. Therefore, the identity theft data reported in the CSN is significantly understated for any given year. In fact, the FTC estimates that identity theft claims more than 10 million victims annually. 

However, assuming there's a consistent flow of consumers who report identity theft complaints each year and assuming that the law enforcement agencies that report identity theft do it consistently each year, we can conclude that the CSN identity theft complaint data reported in any given year is representative of the real levels of identity theft. The CSN identity theft data can be considered useful for determining trends not only for aggregate data but for identity theft fraud subtypes. This enables law enforcement agencies to target their efforts to help control specific types of identity theft fraud.

So, I'm going to give you a lot of stats here. Don't be overwhelmed — you can pick and choose. You can use them as "leading indicators" to help your clients, family members, friends and your communities know the hot areas and how to protect themselves. 

To report a complaint, visit the Federal Trade Commission or call 1-877-ID THEFT (identity theft complaints) and 1-877-FTC-HELP (fraud and other complaints). 

Check out the 110-page CSN report


The CSN Data Book includes annual unverified identity theft, fraud and other complaints that are:  


  1. Voluntarily reported by consumers using the FTC web site or one of its toll-free telephone numbers. 
  2. Shared by multiple state and federal agencies. 
  3. Shared by non-governmental entities including the Council of Better Business Bureaus in North America, Catalog Choice and the Center for Democracy and Technology, among others.

The CSN sorts the complaints into 30 categories including "identity theft" (279,156 complaints), 11 "other" categories and the following 18 "fraud" categories:

  • Advance fee loans and credit protection repair (47,414 complaints). 
  • Business opportunities, employment agencies and work-at-home plans (36,111 complaints).
  • Buyer' clubs (2,660 complaints).
  • Charitable solicitations (3,474 complaints).
  • Foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams (43,101 complaints).
  • Grants (12,823 complaints).
  • Health care (38,246 complaints).
  • Imposter scams (73,281 complaints).
  • Internet auction (35,926 complaints).
  • Internet services (81,805 complaints).
  • Investment-related complaints (7,657 complaints).
  • Magazines and books (21,636 complaints).
  • Mortgage foreclosure relief and debt management (38,140 complaints).
  • Office supplies and services (15,917 complaints).
  • Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries (100,208 complaints).
  • Shop-at-home and catalog sales (98,306 complaints).
  • Telephone and mobile services (70,024 complaints).
  • Travel, vacations and timeshare plans (32,736 complaints). 

The "other" area, which the CSN began in 2008, includes complaints relating to deceptive practices pertaining to the following 11 categories: 

  • Auto related (77,435 complaints).
  • Banks and lenders (89,341 complaints).
  • Clothing, textiles and jewelry (3,358 complaints).
  • Computer equipment and software (13,435 complaints).
  • Credit bureaus, information 
  • furnishers and report users (30,203 complaints).
  • Credit cards (37,932 complaints).
  • Debt collection (180,928 complaints).
  • Education (3,164 complaints).
  • Home repair improvement and 
  • products (13,020 complaints).
  • Real estate (8,763 complaints).
  • Television and electronic media (37,404 complaints). 


Keep with me; we have a lot of stats, but they're important. Since 2007 and through 2011 the CSN has reported more than 7 million "identity theft," "fraud" and "other" complaints. (Also, the CSN reported more than 9 million "Do-Not-Call Registry" complaints.)


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