Research and Statistics

ID theft, debt collection top list of consumer complaints

Identity theft remained the leading source of consumer complaints in 2008, according to the Federal Trade Commission annual compilation of gripes, released today.

The FTC’s report says ID theft has remained the top complaint for nine years running, with credit card fraud the most frequent type of consumer gripe within that category for 2008. The total number of ID theft complaints rose year over year — topping 313,000 in 2008 — as did the total number of consumer complaints. That grand total has risen every year, says Claudia Bourne Farrell, acting director of the office of public affairs at the FTC, and went over 1.2 million in 2008.

That ID theft occupies the top spot doesn’t surprise some experts. “ID theft will always be a problem because the FTC doesn’t hold [credit] bureaus accountable, and the bank regulators don’t hold banks accountable,” says Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocacy organization. “Until they are held responsible for sloppy credit-granting, consumers will pay the ID theft price,” he says.

The top 10 categories were largely unchanged from 2007’s list, with foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams making the largest move — from seventh place to fifth place. Banks and lenders moved from 12th to ninth place in 2008, a move that appears related to the ongoing economic woes and credit crunch.

Meanwhile, credit card complaints, which didn’t make the top 20 in 2007,  leaped to 18th place.

“Credit complaints will increase as banks tighten screws, debt collectors make more calls and as scams related to credit increase, ” Mierzwinski says.

The FTC generates its list from the records in its Consumer Sentinel Network, a database of consumer complaints that the agency shares with law enforcement. Consumers can file complaints into the database using the FTC’s online complaint form.

FTC’s 2008 list of top consumer complaints




Percentage of
total complaints

2007 rank

1Identity theft313,982261
2Third party and creditor debt collection104,64292
3Shop-at-home and catalog sales52,61543
4Internet services52,10244
5Foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams38,50537
6Credit bureaus, information furnishers and report users34,94035
7Prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries33,34038
8Television and electronic media25,93029
9Banks and lenders22,890212
10Telecom equipment and mobile services22,38726
11Computer equipment and software21,442210
12Business opportunities, employment agencies and work-at-home20,286213
13Internet auction17,294111
14Advance-fee loans and credit protection/repair17,263115
15Health care16,275114
16Auto-related complaints14,2781
17Travel, vacations and time share plans13,200116
18Credit cards13,1961
19Magazines and buyers clubs10,188118
20Telephone services9,3001

See related: FTC urges changes to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

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