FTC: Imposter scams bully into top 3 consumer complaints spot

Identity theft is #1 complaint for 15th year in a row, FTC says

Imposter scams where rip-off artists impersonate IRS, FBI or other official has moved into third place – its highest placement on the Federal Trade Commission’s annual evaluation of consumer complaints.

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The jump in the 2014 FTC list is a significant indication of how widespread the imposter scams have become. The Federal Trade Commission said the number of consumer complaints about criminals impersonating IRS officials was nearly 24 times more than in 2013.

For example, in January the IRS said phone scams in fact for the first time top the Dirty Dozen scam list compiled annually by the IRS and catalogues a variety of common scams taxpayers may encounter any time during the year.

Phone scams top the list this year because it has been a persistent and pervasive problem for many taxpayers for many months. Scammers use fake names and bogus IRS badge numbers. They often leave "urgent" callback requests. They prey on the most vulnerable people, such as the elderly, newly arrived immigrants and those whose first language is not English. Scammers have been known to impersonate agents from IRS Criminal Investigation as well.

The IRS said that the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has received reports of roughly 290,000 contacts since October 2013 and has become aware of nearly 3,000 victims who have collectively paid over $14 million as a result of the scam, in which individuals make unsolicited calls to taxpayers fraudulently claiming to be IRS officials and demanding that they send them cash via prepaid debit cards.

While imposter scams are growing, identity theft continued to reign over the FTC’s top complaint list for the 15th year in a row, this year garnering 13% of the 2.5 million complaints the agency got during 2014.

Many complaints again swirl around the IRS, which has said it estimates it paid $5.2 billion in fraudulent identity theft refunds in filing season 2013 alone.

The Top 10 consumer complaints list look like this:

1 Identity Theft 332,646 13%

2 Debt Collection 280,998 11%

3 Impostor Scams 276,622 11%

4 Telephone and Mobile Services 171,809 7%

5 Banks and Lenders 128,107 5%

6 Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries 103,579 4%

7 Auto-Related Complaints 88,334 3%

8 Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales 71,377 3%

9 Television and Electronic Media 48,640 2%

10 Internet Services 46,039 2%

Florida, Georgia and Nevada are the top three states for fraud per capita and other complaints, while Florida, Washington and Oregon are the top three for identity theft complaints. 

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