The Federal Trade Commission’s annual Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book revealed the top consumer complaints for 2017, with debt collection maintaining its title as the most-complained-about topic.
Complaint data is collected directly from consumers via the FTC’s call center or online complaint system, as well as from gripes filed with other federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies and organizations such as the Council of Better Business Bureaus and Publishers Clearing House. New contributors in 2017 included the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.
Overall, the total number of complaints dropped from 2.98 million in 2016 to 2.68 million in 2017, while the amount lost to fraud increased by $63 million to $905 million in 2017. The median loss from fraud for a consumer was $429, although military consumers reported a 44 percent higher loss than the general population, reaching a median fraud loss of $619.
Debt collection accounted for 23 percent of all consumer complaints, the agency said, although that percentage is a decrease over the 2016 percentage and a large portion of those complaints came via a mobile app reporting system. Next on the list: identity theft, with 14 percent of complaints. The most common type of identity theft reported was credit card fraud, followed by tax fraud.
For the first time, the report broke down fraud losses by age group, revealing some interesting statistics. Although consumers in their 20s reported losing money to fraud more often than those over the age of 70 (with 40 percent of the younger group acknowledging they lost money and just 18 percent of the older group indicating they lost money to a scammer), those in the 70-plus category lost a greater median amount—$1,092, compared with $400 for the younger age group.
Imposter scams—operations that involve someone pretending to be a government official, a tech support representative or a loved one in trouble, for example—took the third spot on the list, with consumers reporting a total of $328 million in financial losses as a result. Almost one in five consumers who reported an imposter scam indicated they lost money to the fraud, the FTC said, making it the highest-reported category for financial losses.
The most widely used form of payment for fraud: wire transfer. Telephone solicitations remained popular with scammers, with 70 percent of consumers reporting they were contacted by phone.
Filling out the rest of the top ten categories of complaints were telephone and mobile services; banks and lenders; prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries; shop-at-home and catalog sales; credit bureaus, information furnishers and report providers; auto-related complaints; and television and electronic media.
In terms of geographical location, the top three complaining states were Florida, Georgia and Nevada. Per capita, Michigan, Florida and California had the most reports regarding identity theft.
To read the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, click here.
Why it matters: “While we received fewer overall complaints in 2017, consumers reported losing more money to fraud than they did the year before,” Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “This underscores the importance of the FTC’s work in educating consumers and cracking down on the scammers who try to take their money.”