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San Francisco, CA – Yesterday the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its annual 2012 Consumer Sentinel report. The report pulls together data from millions of complaints to local, state, and federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies and consumer groups across the country. The latest report includes over two million consumer complaints in 2012, the highest ever.
“This report puts the spot light on the threats consumers’ face each day, and highlights our need for tough consumer protections and regulatory oversight,” said Jon Fox, consumer advocate with the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) Education Fund.
California maintained its 3rd place ranking for identity theft complaints, but total complaints rose by 20 percent from 38, 607 in 2011 to 46, 658 in 2012, a 20 percent increase. Tax or other wage related fraud in California , nearly doubled, up from 7,774 in 2011 to 15,250 in 2012.
Nationally, California jumped up from #20 to #11 in state ranking of “Fraud & Other Complaints.” The number of companits increased by over 20 precent from 2011, peaking at 187,270. Nationaly consumers reported loosing over $1.4 billion to fraud, with a median of $535 per victim. CALPIRG education Fund’s analysis found that while the total amount lost to fraud in California went down in 2012, the average cost per consumer increased by over 6 percent reaching $3,033.
The new FTC report shows that criminals are increasingly using the World Wide Web to trap victims. Half of U.S. victims reported to the FTC that they were contacted by fraudsters via email solicitations (38%) or fraudulent websites (12%).
“Even the New York Times and big security firms recently fell victim to fraudulent emails and phishing attacks. Californians need to stay on their toes, as new technology provides criminals with new opportunities to steal our money online, in a store, and even at home,” warned Jon Fox, adding “Consumers should be wary of opening attachments or following links that look suspicious, even if they come from someone they know.”
Once again the FTC cited identity theft as the number one complaint category in this year’s report. To help consumers understand the multiple threats to their identity the CALPIRG Education Fund created an online info-graphic detailing the threats consumer’s face online, at home, and while doing business and the actions they can take to protect themselves.
In addition, CALPIRG Education Fund recommends that consumers take 12 simple steps to protect their identity:
- Be “stingy” with your nine-digit Social Security number, and never use it as an identifier or password.
- Avoid paper billing by requesting secure electronic statements instead.
- Lock your mailbox.
- Shred documents containing personal information before throwing them away, and password protect sensitive computer files.
- Use long hard-to-guess passwords.
- Avoid using the same password across multiple accounts.
- Install and update antivirus, anti-malware, and security programs on all computers, tablets, and smart-phones.
- Don’t disclose information commonly used to verify your identity on social network sites.
- Avoid making purchases or sending sensitive information over unsecured WiFi networks.
- Disable Bluetooth connections on devices when not in use.
- Watch out for “phishing” scams. If you receive un-solicited requests for personal information in email or over the phone, ignore them.
- Fight “skimmers” by not handing your debit card to a server or anyone who could have a hand-held skimming device out of sight.
Californians can learn more about identity theft online at http://www.calpirg.org/idtheft
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The California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund conducts research and public education on behalf of consumers and the public interest. Our research, analysis, reports and outreach serve as counterweights to the influence of powerful special interests that threaten our health, safety and well-being
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