Identity theft was the leading consumer fraud complaint last year, far exceeding gripes about Internet auctions and services. Of the 204,000 complaints compiled by the Federal Trade Commission, 42 % involved identity theft, the agency said Wednesday. The figures come from a government database that collects complaints from more than 50 law enforcement and consumer groups.
Other top consumer fraud complaints were problems with Internet auctions (10 %), involving goods that were delivered late or not at all and items less valuable than advertised; deceptive trial offers and charges from Internet and computer services (7 %); and shop-at-home and catalog offers that failed to deliver or honor guarantees(6 %).
The hijacking of someone's identity information, such as credit card or Social Security numbers, to steal money or commit fraud is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. Privacy advocates have said the number of people victimized by identity theft may be as high as 750,000 a year.
Last week, a Seattle man was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison for stealing identity information from the garbage cans and mailboxes of almost 400 victims. A day later, police in Washington state said they cracked an identity theft ring, seizing a huge amount of stolen mail, paperwork bearing Social Security numbers, forged receipts, equipment for making fake driver's licenses, and maps of mail routes.