Not an honor to be nominated

‘Tis the season for the entertainment industry to hand out statuettes for notable achievement.  It’s also the time of year when the FTC singles out industries "nominated" by consumers for actions of a less admirable nature.  According to the just-released Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, the FTC received more than 2 million complaints from consumers in 2012 — the most ever.  What industries show up on the one Top 10 list that companies want to avoid?

ID theft topped the charts with 369,132 complaints — about 18% of the total.  The runner-up:  Beefs with debt collectors, which accounted for 180,928 — or about 10%.  Banks and lenders were next on the list, motivating consumers to file 132,340 complaints.  And the shop-at-home/catalog category generated 115,184 complaints.

With enough pie charts and bar graphs to satisfy everyone’s Inner Stats Geek, the Data Book also lists complaint data by state and metropolitan area, breaking it down so you can see the forms of ID theft and fraud your neighbors are reporting.

The source of the stats?  The Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database managed by the FTC that includes complaints received by the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, 14 state AG offices, all Better Business Bureaus in the U.S. and Canada, as well as private sector contributors.  More than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies use the data to conduct investigations, identify victims and track targets.

Why should the Top 10 list matter to you?

If your industry is on it, use that fact as a way to remind the bad apples in your business that consumers are fighting back by reporting questionable practices.  Also, the Data Book breaks down the kinds of practices that generate the largest number of complaints.  How does your company measure up?

If your locale is one of the areas where people are complaining most often about fraud or identity theft, enlist the help of other members of the business community to educate consumers about how to spot the signs of a rip-off and report wrongdoing when they see it.



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Here in South Carolina, even with the recent hack of our state records, the complaints tend to be much more about the economy and trying hard to get a good price on our service vs grumbling about identity theft. Just seems that the worry has not reached the level of the concern about how to make ends meet.

All of these lists and statistics are great and a valuable resource for research. If nothing happens as a result of the many thousands of reports, it can hardly be called consumers fighting back.

Many organizations exist claiming to be devoted to "protecting consumers", most provide information and resources, some are obviously for business, funded by business and act to appease consumers and protect reputations. This is not an accusation the FTC is one of those organizations but where is the link between the information, the consumers and the actions consumers can take against these naughty businesses?

As an organization with information, many resources and connections outside the reach of ordinary consumers, there is more that can be done to help the individual consumer fight back when they encounter a bad apple of a business.

Identity theft was the #1 complaint category, and government was overwhelmingly the greatest source of identity theft incidents. From page 3 of the report: "Government documents/ benefits fraud (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%)."

In general, I enjoy the recently- adopted happy-talk of your posts, but this time I think you missed. Most of the sectors listed--banks, collection agencies, telecom providers, and yes even government--serve important purposes and millions of people. That each generates complaints is not news. That the biggest category is identity theft is due to our collective failure--by government in particular--to adopt an effective universal method of individual identification.

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