In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network received over 2.5 million reports of fraud, identity theft and other consumer scams. While reports of fraud decreased slightly from 2016, the overall amount of money lost increased, up $63 million to a total of nearly $905 million. Victims included both young people and the elderly, with schemes ranging from empty promises of debt management assistance to fake business opportunities. The range of scams and people affected suggests that consumers should be vigilant about protecting their rights.
Consumers who want to protect themselves from fraud can take a number of steps, including crafting strong, individualized passwords for each website they use, monitoring banking activity and credit reports, and refraining from giving out the number of their bank account or identifying information like social security numbers over the phone. For consumers who want to take more stringent measures, a credit freeze may offer additional security. This measure allows you to restrict access to your credit report; all you have to do is contact the major credit bureaus and request a freeze on your credit report. The bureaus will assign you a password or PIN that you will need if you wish to temporarily unlock your credit (which you will need to do if you buy a home or open a new line of credit because your lender will need access to your report). While a credit freeze prevents unauthorized users from gaining access to your credit information, some protective measures may offer only limited assistance. For instance, you can buy identity-theft insurance, but some forms of insurance will not cover any financial losses suffered due to identity theft – they may cover only the cost of replacing identity markers.
If you are the victim of consumer fraud, it’s crucial to report the incident because complete and accurate reporting helps the government target practitioners of fraud and allocate resources appropriately. If you need to know which agency should receive your report, the federal government maintains a list of common scams and a corresponding list of agencies that receive reports. State and local agencies, including state attorney general offices and the Better Business Bureau, also accept reports from consumers. Further, if you need help pursuing a claim, attorneys who specialize in consumer protection law can help you recover your losses. Consumers that are the victims of fraud may be reluctant to come forward for fear of looking foolish, but when they do, there are resources on which they can rely.
Kathleen Davies is a Staff Writer for GetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and has practiced law and taught legal writing and advocacy.