Credit cards are top source of ID theft complaints, FTC says

Despite tighter security, misuse of credit card information rose 'substantially' in 2017

Fred O. Williams
Senior Reporter
Expert on consumer credit laws and regulations

Identity Theft

Credit cards were the top source of identity theft complaints to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2017, rising 23 percent to surpass ID theft via employment fraud and tax fraud.

The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel report said there were 105,209 reports of new credit card account fraud, up 3 percent from 2016. Fraud on existing accounts generated 34,260 reports, up 20 percent.

“Reports of misuse of credit card information increased substantially,” Tom Pahl, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said in a call with reporters to talk about the report’s findings.

 Fraud, ID theft using credit cards on the rise

  • There were 105,209 reports of fraud involving new credit card accounts, up 3 percent from 2016. 
  •  Fraud on existing credit card accounts generated 34,260 reports, up 20 percent. 
  • Credit cards were used as a payment tool in 43,436 fraud reports, for $74 million; second only to wire transfers, which collected $333 million from 112,229 victims. 

The top identity theft types can vary by year. This graph depicts the top three types of identity theft reported in 2017 and how those types changed over five years.

Reasons behind fraud increase are unknown

The agency does not know what is causing the increase, Pahl said. It could be that consumers are reporting credit card fraud more because of heightened awareness, or the underlying incidence of card fraud is up.

The report totals include people who report attempted fraud as well as those who have suffered monetary losses.

The higher complaint totals come as card issuers tighten security. More cards have EMV chip protection and merchants are increasingly making use of the anti-fraud technology, according to new data from Visa.

Fewer complaints, but consumers losing more money 

The annual FTC report provides a look at trends in consumer complaints about fraud, ID theft and other problems in the marketplace.

  • In 2017 the FTC recorded 2.68 million complaints – down slightly from 2.98 million in 2016. 
  • The top three problems reported were debt collection, identity theft and impostor scams.
  • People reported losing $905 million to fraud in 2017, with a median loss of $429 – that is $63 million more than in 2016.
  • Reports of ID theft from tax fraud plummeted 46 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, dropping to the No. 2 type of ID theft. That coincided with the launch of higher tax return security measures by the IRS.
  • Impostor scams were the most costly type of fraud, causing $328 million in reported losses. These scams involve someone posing as a loved one, government official, tech support representative or other person to trick consumers into giving them money.

 “While we received fewer overall complaints in 2017, consumers reported losing more money to fraud than they did the year before,” Pahl said.

"While we received fewer overall complaints in 2017, consumers reported losing more money to fraud than they did the year before."

Younger and older Americans when it comes to fraud

For the first time, the FTC broke out the effect of scams on age groups.

  • People age 20-29 were most susceptible to scams, with 40 percent of complaints from that group reporting they lost money to fraud. However, the amount of loss per victim increased in older age groups.
  • Only 18 percent of people 80 and older reported a fraud loss, but their median hit, at $1,092, was far and away the greatest loss for any age group.

“Older Americans are doing a great job of recognizing and reporting fraud to us,” Pahl said. “But when they do lose money to fraud, they lose a lot more than younger consumers.”

Debt collectors top list of complaints

In the overall ranking of report categories, problems with debt collectors topped the list in 2017.

  • With 608,535 reports, issues with debt collectors stood as a perennial friction point for consumers. Most of the problems involved hired debt collectors, Pahl said, not original creditors.
  • The No. 2 problem was identity theft, with 371,061 complaints, followed by impostor scams at 347,829.
  • Problems having to do with credit cards ranked number 11 overall, with 45,428 complaints.

Tools consumers can use to fight ID theft

  • Reviewing all bank and credit statements on a regular basis, as well as your credit report, are just two of many ways to prevent identity theft.
  • Making sure your information on social media is only visible to friends and shopping only on secure websites are two of a dozen ways to cut your fraud risk.
  • The FTC also provides tools for consumers to report and recover from ID theft at its Recovering from Identity Theft website.
"Older Americans are doing a great job of recognizing and reporting fraud to us. But when they do lose money to fraud, they lose a lot more than younger consumers."

Identity theft reports by type

Theft type

Theft subtype

# of reports

% Difference from previous year

Credit card fraud 

New accounts

105,209

+3%

Existing accounts

34,260

+20%

Employment or tax-related fraud 

Tax fraud

62,682

-46%

Employment or wage-related fraud

21,214

+23%

Phone or utilities fraud     

Mobile telephone - new accounts

26,062

+18%

Utilities - new accounts

22,064

-2%

Landline telephone - new accounts

6,034

+150%

Mobile telephone - existing accounts

4,675

+11%

Landline telephone - existing accounts

1,162

+109%

Utilities - existing accounts

1,107

-5%

Bank fraud  

Debit cards, electronic funds transfer, or ACH

23,229

+19%

New accounts

17,487

+2%

Existing accounts

12,754

+24%

Loan or lease fraud    

Business\personal loan

11,129

+3%

Auto loan\lease

9,935

+43%

Student loan

5,717

+121%

Real estate loan

4,411

+3%

Apartment or house rented

3,625

+39%

Government documents or benefits fraud   

Government benefits applied for\received

17,793

+34%

Other government documents issued\forged

5,396

-31%

Driver's license issued\forged

3,768

-14%

Passport issued\forged

520

-15%

Other identity theft      

Other

39,667

+6%

Online shopping or payment account

8,685

+43%

Email or social media

7,645

+35%

Medical services

6,805

+40%

Evading the law

4,127

+18%

Insurance

2,952

+19%

Securities accounts

1,634

+18%

Percentages are based on the total number of 2017 identity theft reports: 371,061. Consumers can report multiple types of identity theft. In 2017, 15 percent of identity theft reports included more than one type of identity theft.

See related: How identify theft affects your credit score, Poll: 16 million Americans fear stolen cellphone more than identify theft



Join the discussion
We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company's business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.




Weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, advice, articles and tips delivered to your inbox. It's FREE.


Updated: 05-24-2018