Identity theft complaints up sharply, agencies say – Pittsburgh Post

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With a record number of data breaches reverberating across the nation last year, identity theft zoomed to the top as the fastest-growing complaint reported by state and local consumer protection agencies in 2014, according to a just-released survey by the Consumer Federation of America.

The report from the Washington, D.C.-based association of nonprofit consumer groups, done in conjunction with the North American Consumer Protection Investigators, offers an annual snapshot of common ways people are being ripped off.

“It’s clear that more needs to be done to address ID theft,” the federation’s director of consumer protection, Susan Grant, said in a conference call with reporters, calling data breaches an epidemic.

Although legislators in Washington are considering a federal breach notification law, most states already have regulations requiring that consumers be notified when their personal data has been compromised, Ms. Grant said.

Lawmakers should instead focus on requiring better security to prevent sensitive personal data from being stolen in the first place, she said.

One type of ID theft cited in the survey as particularly fast-growing and troublesome was the use of consumers’ stolen personal information to impersonate them in order to claim their income tax refunds.

“Government benefits fraud … makes it very difficult for the victims to claim benefits that are rightfully theirs,” said Amber Capoun, president of the North American investigators group.

In all, the 37 agencies in 21 states that participated in this year’s survey received nearly 300,000 consumer complaints last year.

The top three consumer complaint categories were the same as last year and in previous years — autos, home improvement/​construction, and credit/​debt complaints.

“The reason they’re usually at the top is because they involve a fair amount of money and those problems have a significant impact on people’s lives,” Ms. Grant said.

The rest of the top 10 list also was essentially unchanged, and did not include complaints about ID theft.

Besides ID theft, other fast-growing categories involved complaints about erroneous bills for health care and about Internal Revenue Service impostor scams.

When agencies were asked what new laws were needed to better protect consumers, several suggested that regulators address the “sharing economy.”

Current laws “generally apply only to business-to-consumer transactions,” Ms. Grant said. “It can be unclear who is legally responsible for problems when consumers purchase services” through platforms such as Uber and Airbnb, she said. She said the agencies did not provide any specific examples of problems.

“We can see from the survey that this is starting to percolate up as an issue. It’s something to keep an eye on.”

For the federation’s report, visit the newsroom section at www.ConsumerFed.org.

Patricia Sabatini: PSabatini@post-gazette.com.

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Article source: http://www.post-gazette.com/business/money/2015/07/30/Identity-theft-complaints-up-sharply-agencies-say/stories/201507300054

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