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Identity theft, Internet fraud top complaint list

Reports of Internet-related fraud now account for more than half the consumer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the agency said Thursday.

Internet-related fraud was the subject of 55 percent of the more than a half-million complaints filed in 2003, up from 45 percent a year earlier, the FTC said. The median loss for victims of Internet-related fraud was $195.

Identity theft _ stealing someone's personal information for financial gain _ was the most common complaint the FTC received for the fourth consecutive year, the agency said. It represented 42 percent of complaints in 2003, up from 40 percent the year before.

The most common cases of identity theft involved credit cards, followed by telephones or utilities, banks and workplace fraud.

But concern was growing about online transactions of any kind.

Internet auctions represented 15 percent of the complaints, while shop-at-home/catalog sales were 9 percent, and Internet services and computer complaints made up 6 percent.

The other top categories were prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries; foreign money offers; advance fee loans and credit protection; telephone services; business opportunities and work-at-home plans; magazine buyers clubs; and office supplies and services.

Overall, 516,740 consumer complaints were filed last year, up from 404,000 in 2002.

The Washington area had the largest number of fraud complaints as a percentage of the population, followed by the Seattle, San Diego, Phoenix and Tampa areas.

The report highlighted data from Consumer Sentinel, the complaint database developed and maintained by the FTC and the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse.

The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the National Consumers League's National Fraud Information Center, Canada's Phonebusters and Better Business Bureaus also contribute complaint data to the FTC's database.


Top categories of consumer fraud complaints in 2003 include:

+ Identity theft

+ Internet auctions

+ Shop-at-home/catalog sales

+ Internet services and computer complaints

+ Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries

+ Foreign money offers

+ Advance fee loans and credit protection

+ Telephone services

+ Business opportunities and work-at-home plans

+ Magazine buyers clubs

+ Office supplies and services

Source: Federal Trade Commission