National Consumers League

NCL: Identity theft complaints rise 47 percent in 2015, FTC report finds

March 2, 2016

Contact: NCL Communications, Cindy Hoang, cindyh@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—New data from the Federal Trade Commission highlights the continuing threat of identity theft to millions of consumers. In its Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, the Commission reported a 47 percent year on year increase in identity theft complaints. As it has been for the preceding 15 years, complaints about identity theft remain among the top scams consumers report to the Commission.

“Nearly half a million complaints sends a clear message: more needs to be done to protect consumers from identity fraud,” said National Consumers League Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “One of the key drivers of the identity theft threat is the continuing flow of consumers’ personal information to fraudsters thanks to the ongoing epidemic of data breaches. The FTC’s new data should be a clanging alarm bell to policymakers in Washington and beyond that an election year is an excuse to take their feet off the gas pedal when it comes to pushing for real data security reform.” 

According to Javelin Strategy & Research, nearly 1 in 3 data breach victims will experience identity fraud.  As information on tens of millions of consumers affected by data breaches continues to fall in to the hands of cybercriminals, it is likely that millions more consumers will suffer from identity fraud. 

Again this year, the Data Book identified tax and wage-related identity theft as a top source of identity theft complaints to the FTC. With the recent data breach at the Internal Revenue Service, it is very likely this type of fraud will continue to affect consumers this year. While there is no fool-proof way to prevent tax ID theft, NCL has published a step-by-step guide to spotting and recovering from this fraud. 

For policymakers, the need for reform should be clear. Ensuring that companies collecting consumers’ data protect it is critical to bringing down rates of identity fraud. However, without leadership from Washington, businesses and other entities that amass vast troves of consumer data will have little incentive to put data security ahead of profits.

Unfortunately, real reforms to improve data security have languished in Congress while hackers and other cyber-crooks have had a field day at consumers’ expense.  That’s why NCL has called on policymakers to adopt NCL’s Congressional Data Security Agenda. The agenda calls for reforms that: 

  • Create a national data breach notification standard, while protecting strong state laws like California’s;
  • Require data holders to abide by reasonable data security requirements;
  • Clarify and strengthen the FTC’s data security authority;
  • Promote robust cyber-insurance underwriting standards;
  • Increase federal civil and criminal penalties for malicious hacking; and
  • Strengthen international anti-cybercrime partnerships. 

“We know that these nearly 500,000 identity theft complaints are likely just the tip of the iceberg. Far too many identity theft victims don’t report the crime, if they’re even aware of it,” said NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud John Breyault. “Consumers can take steps to mitigate their risk of identity theft, but they can’t prevent it entirely. That’s why we need leaders in Washington to help make sure that the companies that hold consumers’ data protect it to the greatest extent possible.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.