What did consumers complain about the most in 2015?
The Federal Trade Commission released a list of consumer complaints from the previous year, with debt collection topping all other gripes with 29 percent, or 897,655 complaints. Dropping down to second place was identity theft (16 percent of complaints, with 490,220) followed by imposter scams (353,770 complaints, accounting for 11 percent of the total).
Each year, the agency's Consumer Sentinel Network compiles all of its complaints to produce a data book. The complaints include not just those made directly to the FTC by consumers but also complaints received by state and federal law enforcement agencies (such as state Attorneys General offices, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Internal Revenue Service), national consumer protection organizations, and non-governmental organizations like the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
Complaints are sorted into 30 complaint categories and ranked nationally as well as on a state-by-state basis, with a list of the top complaint categories in each state and data on the states and metropolitan areas that generated the most complaints per capita. Do Not Call complaints are reported separately by the FTC and are not included in the numbers.
A total of 3,083,379 consumer complaints were collected by the network in 2015, an increase from the 2,629,987 received in 2014. Over 1.2 million complaints were fraud related, with consumers reporting they paid more than $765 million (with a median payment of $400). The top three states for fraud and other complaints were Florida, Georgia, and Michigan, while Missouri, Connecticut, and Florida took the top three positions for identity theft complaints.
This is the first year debt collection has reached the top spot, the agency noted, with identity theft having been the undisputed leader for the last 15 years. The FTC suspects that debt collection jumped to first thanks to a data contributor that collects consumer complaints via a mobile app, which yielded a spike in complaints about unwanted debt collection calls to mobile phones. Although identity theft came down in the rankings, the number of complaints in that category still increased more than 47 percent from 2014, the FTC said.
Rounding out the top ten: telephone and mobile services (with 275,754 complaints); prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries, accounting for just 5 percent of the claims; banks and lenders, notching 131,875 complaints; shop-at-home and catalog sales, with 96,363 complaints from consumers; auto-related complaints, constituting 3 percent of consumer gripes; television and electronic media in ninth place; and credit bureaus, information furnishers, and report users with 43,939 complaints, or just 1 percent of the total complaints in 2015.
To read the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January-December 2015, click here.
Why it matters: The release of the statistics provided the FTC with an opportunity to highlight its efforts to combat illegal conduct. "We recognize that identity theft and unlawful debt collection practices continue to cause significant harm to many consumers," Jessica Rich, Director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. "Steps like the recent upgrade to IdentityTheft.gov and our leadership of a nationwide initiative to combat unlawful debt collection practices are critical to our ongoing work to protect consumers from these harms."