Identity theft continues to top list of complaints; Florida ranks first

Florida — land of beaches, sunshine and palm trees — and unfortunately, identity theft. Once again, the state led the nation in complaints about identity theft as well as other fraud, the Federal Trade Commission said Thursday.

Last year Florida had 157,383 fraud and other complaints, or 804 per 100,000 people, which was higher than the 133,973 and 694 per 100,000 people reported in 2012.

As for identity theft complaints, in 2013 the state had 37,720, or 192 per 100,000 people. California had a higher number of identity theft-related complaints at 40,404, but a lower number per 100,000 people, at 105.

The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metropolitan area ranked first in 2013 among the top 50 largest metro areas in identity theft complaints at 18,942, or 340 per 100,000 people.

Scott Merritt, an identity theft recovery expert and author of “Identity Theft Do’s and Don’ts,” said Thursday that Florida’s high rate of identity theft is related to tourism.

“The reason is that when you guys get all your spring breakers and vacationers, they become victims,” Merritt, of Midland, Mich., said. “Statistically speaking, that is proven.”

Merritt said that when vacationing, people use credit cards more often as they rent cars and hotel rooms, buy tickets and dine out. It’s best to book what you can before leaving home, he said. He also recommends making sure your name and address are stated exactly the same on your credit cards and driver’s license, which makes it more difficult for thieves to use your information.

Walt Zalisko, president of Global Investigative Group, Fort Myers, agreed that tourists are vulnerable to identity theft, and that’s one reason Florida is at the top of the list. Workers who steal people’s personal information are a growing problem.

“They make more money selling the information than what their employer pays them to work,” Zalisko said.

While previously working as director of corporate security for a major rental car firm, Zalisko said he helped uncover rental agents who wrote down customers’ credit and license information and used it to commit identity theft.

“People are on vacation and don’t realize it’s happened until they get back home,” Zalisko said.

Paige Hanson, manager of educational programs for Lifelock, said that snowbirds, who have multiple addresses, are also vulnerable, and that also plays into Florida’s’s high ranking.

“If they spend six months in the Midwest and six months a year in Florida, the identity thief has the opportunity to potentially take over their identity for six months without their knowledge,” Hanson said.

In 2013 the FTC received more than 2 million complaints of all types nationwide, and 14 percent were identity-theft related. Thirty percent of those were tax or wage-related, which continues to be the largest category within identity theft complaints, the FTC said.

Consumers reported losing over $1.6 billion to fraud overall in 2013, according to the FTC’s annual report released Thursday.

“Americans of all ages are vulnerable to identity theft, and it remains the most common consumer complaint to the commission,” said Jessica Rich, director, Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We urge consumers to visit for tips to prevent and mitigate the damage from identity theft.”

The most frequently targeted age group for identity theft is 20-29, with 20 percent of complaints.

The Federal Trade Commission advises anyone who spots a scam, is the victim of identity theft or other fraud-related issues to file a complaint online at or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357).

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