Hot Line: Identity theft tops list of FTC’s complaints

Identity theft was the most complained about problem to the Federal Trade Commission last year, its recent newsletter said. No less than 369,132 complaints were about identity theft.

Con artists are experts at getting your Social Security number, birth date, and other information to steal your identity. We’ve seen mail telling people they’ve won money and they have to give the information to collect the prize. Some people believe it.

Other crooks call on the phone, often targeting elderly people who reportedly are the most trusting. Some scammers aim at teenagers who haven’t lived long enough to spot a con artist.

(A previous Hot Line column told about scientists’ discovery of the “gullible spot” in the prefrontal cortex of the brain that hasn’t developed completely in the young and has begun to deteriorate in the old. This makes them more likely to believe whatever they are told and they tend to cooperate with the cons and give them whatever information they ask for.)

We urge people to be constantly cautious whether at home or away in guarding information about their identities.

Other common complaints to the FTC in 2012 involved debt collection, banks and lenders, prize awards in false sweepstakes and lotteries, relative or friend in distress, Internet services, vehicle-related complaints, telephone and cell phone problems and credit cards.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To get information about scams or to file a complaint in English or Spanish, call 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357). Online, visit

Some readers notify Hot Line when they are contacted by someone they know must be a con artist trying to get information to steal their identities.

“Please warn people about a scam supposedly from the IRS about back taxes,” an alert Uhrichsville reader wrote Hot Line. “A woman calls on the phone. She never asks for anybody. She starts out saying her name is Sharon, and ‘I’m from the IRS, and I want to talk to you about taxes you owe.’ I haven’t worked for many years,” our reader’s letter continued, “and even if I owed those taxes, they would have notified me by mail. I know it’s a scam. I’ve had three calls from this person and now one today.”

Our reader knew that if she spoke to the caller, she would be asked for “identification” or “to be sure we have the right person, we need to know … “and she would be asked for her Social Security number, birth date and anything else that would help the caller use her identity.

Her letter made Hot Line happy. If everyone could identify a con game as this woman did, the scammers would go out of business.


An email to Hot Line asked a question: “You mentioned in your column that somebody called you. I would like to know how they got your telephone number.”

They looked in the phone book.

Anna Lee Brendza is The Times-Reporter’s consumer columnist. Contact her by writing Hot Line, The Times-Reporter, Box 667, New Philadelphia 44663 or emailing

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