FTC Report Confirms Fraud Starts With a Phone Call in the U.S.

Every year the Consumer Sentinel Network (CSN) compiles the millions of complaints of fraud and identity theft received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). On top of the complaints received by the FTC, the CSN also analyzes the complaints from states' Better Business Bureaus, Departments of Consumer Affairs and Attorney Generals.Fraud

In 2015, the CSN collected over 3 million complaints of fraud and identity theft from the organizations that they work with. Of the 3 million complaints that were received 40% reported fraud, 16% identity theft and 44% other. These complaints exclude those that are for violation of the Do Not Call Registry.

The complaints are broken down into several different categories. The most common scam was debt collection at 29%. This was followed by identity theft (16%), impostor scams (11%), telephone and mobile services (9%), and prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries (5%).

These categories make up some of the most common types of phone scams that we see reported in our community phone book.

Debt collection includes any overly aggressive debt collectors that do not send written notice and ignore do not contact requests. They often demand payment on old or paid-off debt, and if debt is owed they will inflate the amount that needs to be paid.

Complaints of identity theft reported to the CSN were mostly tax-related, making up over 45% of the identity theft complaints. The IRS has been working tirelessly to combat phone scams, but to little avail. Phone scams have been on the top of the IRS's Dirty Dozen List for quite some time.

Impostor scams the third most reported type of fraud is a broad category including any type of scam in which a fraudster pretends to be a friend or family member, a computer technician, or a charity.

Telephone and mobile services consists of spam texts from mobile carriers, and the act of cramming and slamming. Cramming consists of adding unauthorized charges for toll-free numbers and other unwanted services to your monthly phone bill. Slamming is the act of changing your phone provider without your permission.

Rounding up the fifth most reported complaint is prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries. This includes all of the robocall, automated messages offering free vacations and other prizes, as well as the Jamaican lottery scam.

How are people being contacted?

It comes as no surprise after seeing the top five scams, that the majority of these fraud complaints started with a call. The CSN report found just that. Half of the complaints received stated the initial method of contact, and 75% of this group stated that initial contact was made via phone.

The amount of initial contact by phone has increased 25% since 2014 - and a whopping 110% since 2013. This shows the growing problem that phone scams are becoming, especially when you consider the fact that fraud complaints have dropped in all other forms of contact. E-mail as the initial form of contact dropped by 65% from 2014 to 2015.

Who is being contacted?

Phone scams typically target retirees. They often have a nest egg, and are sometimes vulnerable due to loneliness or the early onsets of dementia. The CSN report confirms this, but also shows that all age groups are being affected by fraud and identity theft.

Age Group % affected by Fraud % affected by Identity Theft
19 and under 1% 5%
20-29 11% 14%
30-39 15% 16%
40-49 16% 20%
50-59 20% 24%
60-69 21% 15%
70 and over 16% 6%

It doesn't just depend on your age, but also where you live. Florida, Georgia and Michigan have the highest amount of fraud complaints per capita. With identity theft, Missouri is number one in terms of complaints per capita, followed by Connecticut and Florida. All states reported governement documents or benefits fraud as the most common form of identity theft. 

Regarding fraud, the CSN breaks down the most common types in each state, which you can find in the table below.

State Most Common Form of Fraud
Alabama Debt Collection
Alaska Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries
Arizona Debt Collection
Arkansas Debt Collection
California Debt Collection
Colorado Debt Collection
Connecticut Debt Collection
Delaware Debt Collection
District of Columbia Debt Collection
Florida Debt Collection
Georgia Debt Collection
Hawaii Impostor Scams
Idaho Impostor Scams
Illinois Debt Collection
Indiana Debt Collection
Iowa Impostor Scams
Kansas Impostor Scams
Kentucky Debt Collection
Louisiana Debt Collection
Maine Impostor Scams
Maryland Debt Collection
Massachusetts Debt Collection
Michigan Debt Collection
Minnesota Impostor Scams
Mississippi Debt Collection
Missouri Debt Collection
Montana Impostor Scams
Nebraska Impostor Scams
Nevada Debt Collection
New Hampshire Debt Collection
New Jersey Debt Collection
New Mexico Debt Collection
New York Debt Collection
North Carolina Debt Collection
North Dakota Impostor Scams
Ohio Debt Collection
Oklahoma Debt Collection
Oregon Impostor Scams
Pennsylvania Debt Collection
Rhode Island Debt Collection
South Carolina Debt Collection
South Dakota Debt Collection
Tennessee Debt Collection
Texas Debt Collection
Utah Impostor Scams
Vermont Impostor Scams
Virginia Debt Collection
Washington Impostor Scams
West Virginia Impostor Scams
Wisconsin Debt Collection
Wyoming Impostor Scams

Who is calling?

The majority of the complaints that identified a company or organization, identified U.S. based companies. In fact, U.S. companies and organizations made up 96% of the complaints. Countries that we typically associate with scam calls like Nigeria, Jamaica, and India each made up only 1% of complaints. Still though many of the calls that are associated with U.S. companies could be coming from outside of the country, but be using caller ID spoofing to hide their identity.

How much is lost?

Among those who reported losing money the average amount of money lost in each fraud complaint was $400 per person. Wire transfer was the most common method of payment reported by the 19% of victims who stated this information.

Can anything be done?

Whenever you get an unknown or unsolicited call be suspicious. If you feel that you've been targeted by a phone scam report it. Of those who reported identity theft to law enforcement, 89% stated that the authorities took a report. Although immediate results won't come, the long term effects of reporting fraud will help protect others and eventually bring some of the perpetrators to justice.

Let any unknown calls go to voicemail and then check it in a reverse phone lookup search, like CallerSmart's phone book. Even if you get a call that says it's coming from a known company or organization don't trust the call if it's unsolicited, and don't give any personal information.

If you feel that you've been called by a scammer you should report it to the local authorities, your state's Attorney General and to the other appropriate organizations. You can also report any phone number that calls you by downloading CallerSmart's caller ID app for iPhone and adding your feedback to our community phone book. If you don't have an iPhone app you can still trace unknown numbers and leave your feedback on our website.