On February 7, the Federal Trade Commission released its annual Report on Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Complaint Data covering 2006. Over 670,000 consumer fraud and identity theft complaints were received. These data will form part of the statistical base influencing ongoing congressional evaluation of proposed identity theft legislation.

Consumer Sentinel

These complaint data are maintained in the Commission's Consumer Sentinel database, established in 1997, which gathers information about consumer fraud and identity theft complaints from over 115 organizations and now includes over 3.5 million complaints. This database is made available to numerous law enforcement agencies for use in their investigations. The Identity Theft Clearinghouse, part of the Sentinel Network, was launched in 1999, and is the sole national repository of consumer complaints about identity theft. It is designed to enable law enforcers to spot identity theft problems in their own backyards.

While numerous organizations of various types submit data to Consumer Sentinel, 56 percent of the complaints reported in 2006 were reported directly to the FTC. Another 30 percent were reported to the Internet Crime and Complaint Center, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

Numerous Thefts Reported

Of the 674,354 total complaints reported, 37 percent, or 246,035, concerned identity theft. That is five times as many as the next category, fraud in "Shop-at-Home/Catalog Sales" (46,995). Rounding out the top five were "Prize/Sweepstakes and Lotteries" (45,587), "Internet Services and Computer Complaints" (41,243) and Internet Auctions (32,832).

The 246,035 total of identity theft complaints reported is some 4 percent lower than for 2005 (255,613), and about the same as in 2004 (246,882). The Commission cautions, however, that additional 2006 complaints are likely to be reported by participating organizations, so that the eventual 2006 total will probably be somewhat larger. The report does not comment on the percentage of identity thefts that go unreported.

The reported data do not include figures on the dollar amount complainants believe that they lost through the identity thefts reported. However, the reported fraud complaints involved amounts paid by victims that in total exceed $1.1 billion. Although the total number of reported fraud complaints was down from 437,906 in 2005 to 427,319 in 2006, the average amount paid by the victim grew from $2,396 to $3,257, an increase of 36 percent.

Interesting Points

The reported data indicate that most of the persons submitting identity theft complaints to Consumer Sentinel did not perceive identity theft as a matter that they should report to the police department. Thus, 62 percent of the victims reported that they did not notify a police department. Among the 38 percent who did notify a police department, 8 percent said no police report was taken, thus suggesting that some police departments were not treating identity theft as a matter upon which they were prepared to act.

Among the somewhat surprising data are that the metropolitan areas ranking highest in identity theft consumer complaints are not the usual places perceived to be hotbeds of crime. On a complaints per 100,000 population basis, the top five identity theft areas were Napa, CA; Madera, CA; McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX; Greeley, CO; and Yuba City, CA. By way of contrast, the New York City area ranked 140th, the Washington, DC area 106th, and Los Angeles 53rd. The metropolitan area ranking safest in terms of identity theft complaints per 100,000 population was Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA. The five states with the highest numbers of identity theft complaints per 100,000 population were Arizona, Nevada, California, Texas, and Florida. If, however, Washington, DC were included, it would rank second.