Clever criminals have ways to stay ahead of their victims’ defenses. The computer has become one of the main sources of fraud against consumers. Companies like online protection software operations McAfee and Symantec would not have businesses otherwise. Consumer activists would not harass social media sites like Facebook and Twitter about their unwillingness to guard the identity of their users.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed information from the Federal Trade Commission about fraud and identify theft data that it publishes it in the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book. According to the CSN, more than 1.3 million consumer fraud claims were filed in 2010. Of the 27 categories, fraud related to identity theft, debt collection, Internet services and lotteries are the most prevalent. Consumers reported losing more than $1.7 billion in those complaints. The average amount lost was $594. “Eighty-six percent of the consumers who reported a fraud-related complaint also reported” that they lost money, according to the report. In other words, Americans were victimized but were not sure what it cost them.
Consumer complaints vary widely by state. 24/7 picked the ten states with the largest percentage of total complaints per 100,000 people. States with large retirement populations were high on the list although the government does not acknowledge this or give any reason it should be so.
24/7 Wall St. also analyzed what type of fraud was most prevalent in the most fraud-ridden states. Some areas have out-sized trouble with lotteries. Others have problems with fraud related to personal government documents and debt collection. The government also does a poor job of explaining the differences in these trends from state to state.
Georgia has the fourth-highest level of identity theft complaints on this list, with 97.1 complaints for every 100,000 people. In fact, 23% of all consumer complaints in Georgia concerned identity theft. The largest part of these complaints, 31%, dealt with government documents or government benefits fraud. This level of complaints about government services is tied with Alabama and Mississippi for the highest percentage of this type of identity theft for a specific state.
Alaska has the 14th lowest level of identity theft complaints, which is the most commonly reported type of complaint in the country. However, it has the fourth highest level of all other complaints, with 384.5 complaints per 100,000 people. Alaska also has the highest rate of complaints about prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries among the states on this list, with 34.6 complaints per 100,000 residents.
Some 25% of Delaware’s identity theft complaints involve phone or utilities fraud, the same amount as Ohio. In fact, no other state even reaches 20% for this specific type of complaint. The state also has, by a large margin, the greatest rate of debt collection complaints in the country, with 69.8 complaints per 100,000 residents. The second highest level of debt collection complaints occurred in Nevada, which had 57.8 complaints per 100,000 residents.
Washington has the second highest rate of Internet service fraud complaints on this list, with 26 complaints per 100,000 people. The #1 state in this category is Colorado. Washington’s high complaint rate is due in part to the state’s Mount Vernon-Anacortes metropolitan statistical area, which consists mostly of Skagit County, which has the third highest rate of consumer complaints in the country — 678.7 complaints per 100,000 people.
California has the third highest rate of identity theft complaints, 102.4 per 100,000 residents, behind only Florida and Arizona. The Madera Metropolitan Statistical Area, home of the centrally located Madera County, also has 156.3 identity theft complaints per 100,000 people, the fifth highest rate in the country. Of course, due in large part to its massive population, California has the highest absolute number of complaints, with 162,220 consumer complaints reported in 2010. Texas had the second highest absolute amount, with 95,322.
Arizona has the second highest rate of identity theft complaints, with 102.5 per 100,000 residents. The state has the six highest level of all other consumer complaints, 375.5 per 100,000 residents. Arizona also has the third highest rate of fraud complaints regarding both debt collection (57.4 complaints per 100,000 people) and prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries (28.2 complaints per 100,000).
Nevada had the sixth highest level of identity theft complaints in 2010, with 89.7 per 100,000 people, and the third highest level of fraud and other complaints, with 398.3 per 100,000 people. Nevada also has the highest rate of residents who lost money as a result of fraud (88%) – losing $3,434 on average. No other state paid an average greater than $3,000.
Maryland had the second greatest level of fraud reports, excluding identity theft, with 408.4 complaints per 100,000 residents. Alternately, the state ranks ninth for identity theft complaints, with 82.9 complaints per 100,000 population. Maryland has the fifth highest rate of fraud regarding debt collection, 56.2 complaints per 100,000 population. Debt collection fraud is the most common type of complaint in the state – 3,243 complaints involved it last year.
Florida has the highest per capita rate of identity theft complaints in the country. In 2010, the state had 114.8 complaints per 100,000 population. The greatest percentage of these complaints, 24%, involved government documents or benefits fraud. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan statistical area, also known as the South Florida metropolitan area or the Miami metropolitan area, has the highest rate of identity theft complaints in the state, and country, with 184.2 complaints per 100,000 residents.
Colorado is the state with the highest per capita rate of fraud complaints, excluding identity theft. In 2010, the state had 417.8 complaints per 100,000 population. The Greeley metropolitan statistical area, or Weld County, has the second highest rate of fraud complaints in the country, with 714.7 per 100,000 population, and the Boulder metropolitan statistical area, or Boulder County, has the fourth highest rate, with 674.2 per 100,000 population. Colorado also has the highest rate of fraud relating to Internet services on this list, with 33.9 complaints per 100,000 population. No other state has more than 30 complaints. “It really doesn’t surprise me,” fraud prevention coordinator for the Arapahoe County District Attorney’s Office Mason Finks was quoted as saying in the Aurora Sentinel. “We were number two a few years ago for identity theft complaints and we tend to be in the upper five to 10 position in a lot of white-collar crime or financial crime. And I’m not sure why that is.”
Charles B. Stockdale and Douglas A. McIntyre