One of the biggest aids to me in Seniors vs. Crime is the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel. Consumer Sentinel is a national database of consumer complaints of fraud, identity theft and Do Not Call Registry complaints. I submit many complaints to this database, and check it often to learn what the trends are in fraud, and whether the fraud complaints I get are part of a larger trend or something localized.
The Federal Trade Commission just released its 2013 report, analyzing the complaints it received from last year. Of course, the numbers only reflect what is reported to the commission. The report is loaded with statistics, several of which I want to tell you about.
In 2013, people complaining to the FTC reported losing $1.6 billion in fraud. The average loss was $2,294. Ouch. How did they pay out that money? The report tells us 34 percent of folks reporting a loss sent the money out by wire transfer. That was the number one method of losing your money. I talk about this a lot – don’t touch that wire. Anyone who contacts you to send money by wire transfer, and I mean by Western Union or Moneygram, is a scammer. Period.
And what was the second most used method of losing money? Prepaid debit cards accounted for 28 percent of the losses. Prepaid debit cards, in my experience, almost always mean Green Dot Moneypaks. This is another name I talk about all the time, and one you need to learn. Anyone who contacts you to buy a Green Dot card and load money to it is a scammer. Period.
A statistic that surprised me was the percentage of folks complaining of identity theft who reported the fraud involved wage or tax information. This usually means someone used their information to file false claims or forms with the IRS or Social Security. Thirty percent of all identity theft complaints involved wage and tax fraud. This is something to keep in mind as we approach the April 15 deadline for tax filings. Several people called recently to report calls from someone claiming to represent the US Treasury or the IRS. Remember, these government agencies will get in touch with you by mail. They do not call on the phone to discuss your taxes.