Federal Trade Commission Releases Annual Complaints Summary


The Federal Trade Commission released its annual complaints summary this month outlining trends in complaints about imposter scams, identity theft and debt collection.

The Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book reflects complaints received by the FTC, as well as other federal regulators and law enforcement agencies, stored in the Consumer Sentinel Network online database. The database is only accessible to law enforcement; however, the FTC releases a report summarizing the complaints each year.

The database also includes complaint information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service and nongovernmental organizations such as the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which includes all BBBs in North America.

Debt collection and identity theft complaints declined slightly from 2015 to 2016, while reports of imposter scams increased, according to the FTC.

There were 859,090 complaints about debt collection in 2016, a decline from the 897,655 complaints filed in 2015. Debt collection complaints represent 28 percent of all complaints documented in the report, also including those about credit bureaus, telephone and mobile services and more.

According to the FTC, the number of debt collection complaints last year was in part a result of complaints submitted by PrivacyStar, a private service provider that allows consumers to submit complaints directly to the FTC through a mobile application.

PrivacyStar also contributed to the number of debt collection complaints in the report last year, ACA International previously reported.

In other complaint categories, imposter scam reports surpassed identity theft for the first time to become the second most common type of complaint, according to the FTC.

“The rise in impostor scam reports is due to an increase in complaints about government imposters,” the FTC reports in a news release. “Imposter scams come in many varieties, but work the same way: a scammer pretends to be someone trustworthy, such as a government official or computer technician, to convince a consumer to send money. Imposter scams also topped the list of complaints from military consumers followed by identity theft complaints.”

There were 406,578 imposter scam complaints in 2016, representing 13 percent of all complaints.

“Our latest data book shows that imposter scams are a serious and growing problem, and you can be sure that the FTC will use all the tools at its disposal to address it,” said Thomas Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “That includes law enforcement actions against scammers and consumer education to help consumers avoid losing money.”

There were 399,225 complaints about identity theft, which declined from 16 percent of all complaints in 2015 to 13 percent in 2016.

Twenty-nine percent of consumers reported their data was used to commit tax fraud last year, according to the FTC.

“There was a jump in those consumers who reported that their stolen data was used for credit card fraud; this figure rose from nearly 16 percent in 2015 to more than 32 percent in 2016,” according to the news release.

The Consumer Sentinel Network collected more than 3 million consumer complaints in 2016, which the FTC sorts into 30 categories of top complaints.

The complete Consumer Sentinel Network Databook is available here.

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