Special Report

Ten States With the Most Fraud Complaints

123688993Fraud and scams cost Americans more than $1.6 billion last year. According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were more than 2 million cases of fraud in 2013, down slightly from the previous year.

On average, there were 500 complaints per 100,000 residents in the 50 states. Eight of the 10 states with the highest rates had at least 600 complaints per 100,000 residents. Florida led the nation with nearly 1,000 total complaints per 100,000 people. Based on data published by the FTC’s annual Consumer Sentinel Report, 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 states with the most fraud complaints.

Click here to see the ten states with the most fraud complaints

Complaints were separated into three main categories: identity theft, fraud and other complaints. Identity theft was the most common, accounting for nearly 300,000, or 14%, of all incidents. Filing false government documents, like tax forms and applications for government benefits, was the most widespread form of identity theft.

According to David Torok, director of the FTC’s Division of Planning and Information, “people are using consumers’ identities in order to try and obtain a tax refund without them knowing it.” One motivating factor is that “people are getting away with [it].”

Debt collection complaints, such as aggressive practices or factual misrepresentations, were the most common complaint after identity theft. These complaints occurred most often in Florida, where 18% of all reports, or 28,212, were in this category.

Because the recession placed people under considerable financial pressure, it may have made them easier targets for fraud. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., John M. Simpson, consumer advocate at Consumer Watchdog, said, “If you’re in debt, you’re desperate, and so you might try anything.” Highly indebted individuals may be more likely to suspend their disbelief and fall victim to a scam, Simpson noted. They may even be desperate enough to engage in fraud themselves.

In many parts of the country where consumer fraud is especially high, residents have struggled to stay in their homes. In fact, nearly all the states with the most fraud cases per capita had among the nation’s highest foreclosure rates, another factor that may contribute to people’s desperation.

Older Americans may also be more vulnerable to fraud. “The elderly are quite frequently victims of fraud,” Simpson said. This may explain why “Florida — which has got a lot of old folks — leads the list in complaints,” he added. In all, Florida had nearly 1,000 complaints per 100,000 residents.

According to the FTC, however, “Americans of all ages are vulnerable to identity theft.” In fact, more than a third of all victims were under 40 years old, while just 27% of victims were at least 60 years of age.

To identify the 10 states with the highest incidence of fraud, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from the FTC’s Sentinel Network Data Book, which compiles the total number of fraud complaints for each state. These complaints are divided between identity theft and a second category, which includes all other kinds of fraud. 24/7 Wall St. combined the total complaints of fraud per 100,000 people in each of these categories. We also reviewed data on consumers’ average auto, credit card, mortgage and student loan debt, provided by Credit Karma for January 2014. Figures on income and home value are from the U.S. Census Bureau for 2012. Unemployment figures represent annual averages for 2013 and are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Foreclosure figures are from RealtyTrac and also for 2013.

These are the states with the most fraud complaints.

10. Texas
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 592.2
> Total complaints: 156,611 (3rd most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 88.0 (8th most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: +6.9% (9th best)

Texas residents were some of the most likely Americans to be fraud victims in 2013. Scams cost Texans a total of $101.4 million last year, more than all but two other states. Auto-related complaints, including misrepresentation of sale and financing offers and issues with newly bought cars, were among the most common consumer complaints in Texas, accounting for 5% of all fraud reports. This may be due in part to residents’ burdensome auto loan debt. The average resident had more than $21,000 in auto loan debt, more than in any state except for Alaska.

9. New Jersey
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 595.3
> Total complaints: 52,977 (10th most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 80.6 (12th most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -16.3% (11th worst)

New Jersey had more than 7,000 reports of identity theft last year, 18% of which classified as credit card fraud. Predatory lending and other bank complaints were also common in the state, with 5,316 complaints reported. Homes in New Jersey were also among the most expensive in the nation that year, with a median value valued at a median price of $300,000. As a result, New Jersey had the fourth highest average mortgage debt in the United States, at $228,728 per person. Residents also had among the most credit card debt in the country.

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8. Arizona
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 600.0
> Total complaints: 39,757 (13th most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 91.2 (7th most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -36.3% (2nd worst)

Arizona had 39,757 total complaints last year. Many of these were associated with predatory lending and debt collection practices, which may be linked to Arizona’s particularly bad housing market. Home values plummeted 36.3% between 2007 and 2012, the second worst decline nationally. In addition, the foreclosure rate in Arizona was among the worst in the nation last year, with one out of every 80 homes in foreclosure. Incidents of fraud cost Arizona residents more than $30 million in 2013, among the most nationwide.

7. California
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 629.4
> Total complaints: 241,274 (the most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 105.4 (3rd most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -34.4% (4th worst)

California residents reported more than 40,000 cases of identity theft in 2013 — more than in any other state. Some 23% of identity theft complaints had to do with government documents or benefits fraud. Debt collection and bank and lending complaints were also among the most common reports in California, accounting for 13% and 10% of all complaints, respectively. Because of their high debt levels, Californians are likely ideal targets for predatory lending. As of the beginning of this year, the average California resident had a $288,989 mortgage, second highest nationwide. Consumers reported a total of $238.1 million lost in fraud schemes, more than in any other state in 2013.

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6. Maryland
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 667.7
> Total complaints: 39,582 (14th most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 95.5 (6th most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -19.3% (7th worst)

There were more than 5,660 reports of identity theft in the state last year, 19% of which were categorized as credit card fraud, a higher proportion than in all but a few states. Residents had the highest student loan debt as of the beginning of this year, with $32,470 on average. Credit card debt was also much higher than in most other states, according to Credit Karma. Also, 14% of all fraud and other complaints were made against banks and lenders, the most of any state in the nation last year. The state’s housing market may be making residents more susceptible to fraud. Home values fell by nearly 20% between 2007 and 2012, more than in all but a handful of states.

5. Delaware
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 673.4
> Total complaints: 6,234 (10th least)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 81.1 (11th most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -5.3% (23rd worst)

Nearly one in five consumer complaints of identity theft in Delaware were for phone and utilities fraud, in which new accounts are opened in other people’s names, more than in most other states. Residents also reported a high level of imposter scams, complaining of scammers pretending to be friends, family or charitable organizations. Twenty-six percent of complaints were for aggressive debt collectors or predatory lending practices, the most commonly reported complaints in Delaware outside of identity theft. The cost of scams per victim in the state was $3,754 in 2013, more than in all but two other states.

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4. Michigan
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 676.7
> Total complaints: 66,964 (6th most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 97.1 (tied for 4th most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -24.4% (5th worst)

Unlike many other states with high incidents of fraud, Michigan residents had less debt than most Americans. For example, the average auto loan debt in Michigan was just $13,857 as of January of this year, the lowest in the nation. While residents may not have as much to lose as those in other states, they were among the hardest hit by the financial crisis and are likely still vulnerable to fraud. Home values fell by 24.4% between 2007 and 2012, more than double the nationwide decline. The state’s 8.3% unemployment rate last year was also one of the worst in the nation.

3. Nevada
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 719.1
> Total complaints: 20,062 (25th least)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 97.1 (tied for 4th most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -51.6% (the worst)

There were 20,062 reports of fraud, identity theft and other complaints in Nevada last year. More than 2,000 of these involved debt collection. Average mortgage and auto debt in particular were among the highest in the nation as of January, according to Credit Karma. Nevada may have been the state hit hardest by the housing crisis, with home values dropping by 52% between 2007 and 2012. The state is still recovering from the crisis today. One out of every 46 homes was in foreclosure last year, trailing only Florida. To make matters worse, the state’s 9% unemployment rate was also among the worst in 2013. The housing crisis and recession led to many residents feeling severe financial pressure. This likely contributed to higher incidence of fraud.

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2. Georgia
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 755.8
> Total complaints: 75,523 (5th most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 134.1 (2nd most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -13.5% (12th worst)

There were 13,402 reports of identity theft, or 134.1 complaints per 100,000 Georgians, last year. More than half of all identity theft complaints were classified as government documents or benefits fraud, a higher percentage than in any other state except Florida. Aggressive debt collection and predatory lending accounted for a large number of other complaints. According to Credit Karma, student loan debt in the state is second highest nationwide, at $32,283 on average as of the beginning of this year.

1. Florida
> Complaints per 100,000 population: 997.8
> Total complaints: 195,103 (2nd most)
> Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 192.9 (the most)
> 2007-2012 home value change: -35.7% (3rd worst)

Stealing Social Security numbers to collect phony tax returns is on the rise in the United States, but nowhere more than in Florida. Of the nearly 40,000 complaints of identity theft in Florida last year, more than half were related to government documents and benefits. The housing market may also be placing residents at greater risk. Florida was among the hardest hit by the housing crisis, with home values plummeting more than 35% between 2007 and 2012. Last year, one out of every 33 homes was in foreclosure, the worst rate in the nation.

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