Identity theft growing, FTC says

| 1/24/2003

For the third consecutive year, the most common fraud was identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission said Jan. 22, with the number of 2002 victims nearly doubling to about 162,000 -- 43 percent of all fraud complaints.

Most identity theft involves credit card fraud and cell phone purchases. But it's also used to obtain loans and defraud banks and in other ways, the FTC said.

The District of Columbia had the highest number of victims of identity fraud per capita, followed by California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas, Florida, New York and Washington.

More than 380,000 complaints in 2002 went to the FTC's Consumer Sentinel system, the agency's complaint database, which collects information from the FBI, law enforcement and consumer groups.

Almost half of the fraud complaints -- 47 percent -- involved the Internet. The median amount of money lost in a fraud case was $218. Half of all victims were 30 to 49 years of age. About 13 percent of fraud victims were 60 or older.

Criminals often use eBay and other legitimate auction Web sites to sell counterfeits or to simply take money and disappear. Other Internet scams involve advance fee loans, catalog sales and offers from those who claim they are desperate for a loan and will pay it back many times over.

The FTC said Americans should research Internet offers by crosschecking information on the Internet and through the Better Business Bureau. Some other advice: Consumers should rip up credit card receipts and make sure no one is standing behind them at automated teller machines or pay phones when they're using credit cards.

In addition, the commission said it’s a good idea to give Social Security numbers and other personal information, including birthday, telephone number and address, only to people you trust.