Phones are one of the few things people keep close by at nearly all times, and there are millions of people and companies using that to their advantage, including criminals. Phone calls are increasingly the most common way fraudsters contact potential victims — more than email or other online scams combined — according to a report released in February by the Federal Trade Commission.
Each year, the FTC compiles complaints it receives from consumers, as well as complaints reported to other agencies and companies stored in a database called the Consumer Sentinel Network. The FTC publishes an annual report on the data.
The report showed an increase in complaints from 2013 to 2014, and more than 1.5 million complaints were fraud-related. Keep in mind these are just complaints — varying estimates say the actual occurrence of fraud is much higher. Nearly half (46%) of complainants said how the fraudster contacted them, and the majority said it was a phone call.
For those who reported a method of contact, 54% said they were reached through the phone, and only 23% said email was the point of contact (11% said they encountered fraud online, but not through email; 7% said “other” and 4% complained about fraud via regular mail).
“People tend to believe in the authority of people who call them on the phone, especially when the people calling them sound like they are authentic,” said Adam Levin, identity theft expert and co-founder of Credit.com. “People don’t realize the Internal Revenue Service does not pick up the phone and call you, and they certainly don’t threaten to put you in jail if you don’t wire money to a specific Western Union office.”
Of the 30 complaint categories the Consumer Sentinel Network uses, identity theft had the most complaints (13%), and tax- or wage-related fraud was most common (32.8%) type of identity theft complaint. That’s down from 30% in 2013, but complaints about loan, bank and credit card fraud each increased this year.
One of the most interesting things from the report is how evenly fraud victims — whether they’ve been hit by identity theft or something else — are distributed among age groups. Looking at the ages of victims named in fraud complaints, 18% are ages 20 to 29, 18% are 30 to 39, 19% are 40 to 49 and 19% are 50 to 59. Only 6% of reported victims were younger than 19, while 13% were 60 to 69 and 7% were older than 70. That shows that everyone is at risk of experiencing fraud.
“The truth is we’re all susceptible to crime,” Levin said. “You can do everything right and still be a victim because you’re on a compromised database. That’s why what’s most important is the way you monitor your life.”
He’s talking about keeping a close eye on your accounts, never sharing identifying information with someone you don’t know, taking advantage of identity theft protection services and monitoring your credit. You can get a free credit report summary, updated every month on Credit.com, to look for changes or issues that could indicate you’re a victim of identity theft.
More on Identity Theft:
- Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
- 3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?