The worst consumer problem: Fraud / Identity Theft

March 2, 2021

Fraud/ identity theft is the No. 1 complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, with 2.2 million complaints last year. Consumers reported losing $3.3 billion last year, up from $1.8 billion in 2019. Among the biggest issues: imposter scams, especially government imposter scams, and online shopping. Actual incidents of fraud are much higher, according to Javelin Strategy & Research, which found in its most recent study that one in 20 people were affected by identity theft in 2019. Losses hit $16.9 billion, with consumers facing out-of-pocket losses of $3.5 billion.

So much of it is preventable -- it just requires consumers to play some smart defense. But a few issues, like fraudulent unemployment claims, can’t really be prevented by consumers. Protecting yourself in cases like these means paying attention and taking quick action if something suspicious arises.

One shocking finding: Account takeovers, which involve a criminal gaining access to an existing account, soared by 72 percent in 2019. Account takeovers yield the biggest losses. In many cases, account takeovers can be prevented by consumers who've taken steps to protect themselves. In others, account takeovers can be detected and halted quickly by consumers who are active in managing their lives.

Here is actionable information to help you avoid the hassles, time and possibly financial losses that come with fraud:


22 tips to protect your identity


FAQ: The importance of freezing your credit files


Step-by-step instructions on how to freeze all of your credit files by phone or online in less than 20 minutes


Consumer Watchdog Associate Grace Brombach shares what she encountered freezing her credit files for the first time, in a blog and video


Fraudulent unemployment claims: You could be next -- here's what to do