ID theft remains top complaint to FTC


By Jon Swartz, USA TODAY
SAN FRANCISCO — Identity theft continues to be the No. 1 bugaboo among consumers who filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission last year.

In 2006, 36% of 674,354 complaints to the FTC were for ID theft, the agency said in a report released Wednesday. In 2005, 37% of 686,683 complaints were for ID theft. The report does not include instances where consumers were either unaware of a theft or did not to file a complaint, the FTC said.

The problem isn’t likely to subside as millions of Americans use personal data to shop and bank on the Internet, making them targets for fraudsters.

"ID theft is a consequence of the information age," FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras said in an interview here Wednesday. "The Internet pushes info — legitimate and stolen — even faster."

The FTC report, a precursor to a more comprehensive study it plans to release this year, comes a week after Javelin Strategy & Research reported an 11.5% decline in ID theft-related losses last year.

That study, based on telephone interviews with 5,000 adults, concluded total losses from the crime fell to $49 billion from $56 billion in 2005.

But the survey — sponsored by Visa USA, Wells Fargo and CheckFree, a provider of e-commerce services and products — has been criticized by ID theft experts because it underplays the effects of recent state legislation that requires companies to notify people whose personal information has been compromised.

Meanwhile, a forthcoming Gartner report is expected to show a significant hike in ID theft. It found 14 million Americans were victims of ID theft in 2006, compared with 10 million cited by FTC in 2003.

The conflicting reports underscore the difficulty of measuring the severity of ID theft when so many cases go undetected or are not pursued by their victims, Majoras says.

"It’s hard to say there is no problem or that ID theft is the fastest-growing problem," she says.

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