For the 12th year in a row, identity theft topped the annual tally of consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission, according to the agency's Sentinel report for 2011.
More than 1.8 million complaints were filed with the FTC last year, and of those 279,156 were about identity theft. Of those ID theft complaints, close to 25 percent were related to tax or wage related fraud.
"The FTC data confirm the decline in identity theft that we've observed elsewhere and reported on," said Jeffrey Blyskal, Consumer Reports senior editor. "Only 15 percent of all complaints reported to the Sentinel system involved ID theft in 2011, down from 20 percent in 2009."
After ID theft, the FTC's top consumer complaints for 2011 were as follows:
- Debt collection complaints
- Prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries
- Shop-at-Home and catalog sales
- Banks and lenders
- Internet services
- Auto related complaints
- Imposter scams
- Telephone and mobile services
- Advance-fee loans and credit protection or repair
"As we advise, you should take ID theft seriously, but don't panic," Blyskal said. "You can take many free precautions on your own to protect yourself without spending needlessly on costly protection services of questionable value."
You can follow these eight steps to secure your identity for less, plus for information about questionable ID protection plans sold by banks, credit-reporting bureaus, and independent companies, see Debunking the hype over ID theft. For ways to protect yourself from identity theft see our tips at Identity theft: What you can do, which includes steps to take if you become a victim. For more visit our Consumer Reports Guide to online security.