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Consumer complaints crept upward in the U.S. to a record level last year, according to national data released Thursday. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said overall reports numbered 3.2 million, for a 3 percent rise from 2018 levels. The FTC tracks complaints in three broad categories: fraud, identity theft and other consumer complaints.
Fraud was, by far, the biggest source of consumer angst in 2019, with nearly 1.7 million fraud complaints recorded. Next came more than 892,000 “other” complaints (ranging from problems with credit bureaus to funeral services), followed by almost 651,000 complaints of identity theft.
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Impostor scams are booming
Within the fraud category, government impostor scams in 2019 jumped nearly 53 percent over the prior year, a notable rise. In government impostor scams, criminals pretend to be employees of the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration or other agencies, and con or threaten people into forking over money or sensitive details, such as banking information.
Impostor scams go beyond government impostors to encompass romance fraudsters and tech support, as well as cases in which crooks masquerade as a business associate, relative or friend. Overall in 2019, nearly $667 million was lost to all impostor scams, the report says. That's up from $497.2 million the previous year, for a 34 percent increase. Overall fraud losses were more than $1.9 billion last year, up from more than $1.48 billion in 2018, for a 28 percent jump.
Not everybody lost money in the reported cases of fraud, identity theft and other matters; some people file complaints to alert authorities. For example, about 1 in 10 reports of impostor scams last year involved people actually losing money, with a median loss of $700.
As for identity theft, which is tracked separately from fraud, complaints spiked 46 percent during 2019 compared to the previous year. There were 650,572 reports last year and 444,358 in 2018.
Other key report findings
Median loss of fraud victims by age:
- $448 for people in their 20s
- $379 for people in their 30s
- $410 for people in their 40s
- $500 for people in their 50s
- $600 for people in their 60s
- $800 for people in their 70s
- $1,600 for people age 80 and older
The top 10 locations for fraud and other consumer complaints on a per-capita basis were (in descending order): Washington, D.C., Nevada, Florida, Delaware, Maryland, Georgia, Arizona, Oregon, Colorado and Virginia. As for identity theft, the top 10 locations were Georgia, Florida, California, Texas, Nevada, Louisiana, Delaware, Washington, D.C., South Carolina and Maryland.