America is over the Nigerian prince scam -- I think -- but there are fresh scams getting invented every day, and not necessarily on the Internet or by email, where you would expect them.
The Nigerian prince scam -- the 21st century version of 'I've got a bridge to sell you for cheap' -- has been the stuff of jokes in recent years, with its email appeals for bank account numbers so millions of dollars can be miraculously deposited in your account. (I actually had a niece in Jordan fall for this one a couple of years ago. My brother-in-law called me with the good news, and I promptly told him -- in a rather loud voice, I admit -- to immediately close her account. No harm done in the end, but it was a close shave.)
Yet for all the jokes and all the warnings, Nigeria still ranks in the top 10 among countries hosting entities Americans complain about. I learned this while reading the Federal Trade Commission's 2011 'Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book,' which tracks America's number of fraud and identity theft complaints. So, when I read this stat, it made me wonder: What else are Americans saying about the scams they suffered in 2011?
So, with the trusty commission report in hand, I found 17 amazing fun facts you should know about scams and identity theft:
1. Even with all the dire warnings from law enforcement, there were 350,000 more consumer complaints in 2011 than the previous year.
2011 saw 1.8 million complaints of identity theft, fraud and other complaints.
2. Fraud beats out identity theft, hands down, even though identity theft has been the flavor of the day in the press recently.
Fraud complaints made up 55% of all consumer complaints in 2011. Some 15% of all complaints were identity theft; debt collection followed with 10%.
3. Yes, we still hold out hope we'll win the lottery.
Among the complaints were prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries (6%); foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams (2%); and business opportunities, employment agencies and work-at-home plans (2%).
4. We have figured out that that church soliciting under the freeway may not be the best choice for your charitable donations.
At the bottom of the complaints list were buyers' clubs, education, clothing, textiles, jewelry, and charitable solicitations, all less than 1%.
5. We still can't pass up that too-good-to-be-true deal.
Of those reporting how much they paid out in fraud cases, an average of $2,267 per person was lost, or $1.5 billion total.
6. Almost 30,000 people complained that they paid out more than $5,000 to frauds.
7. Wire transfers led the list of fraudulent charges.
You may expect credit cards to be at the top of the list of fraudulent exchanges. Yet people were defrauded by wire transfer 50% of the time, up from 20% in 2009. Bank account debits made up 13%, with credit cards at 16%.
8. Maybe the older generations are too embarrassed to file reports or maybe they've wised up, but 52% of fraud complaints were made by people 20 to 49 years old.
People 50 and older made up 45% of those complaining. The same is true for ID theft: Gen X and Y complain about it. Baby boomers and the elderly don't. The bulk of identity theft complaints came from people ages 20 to 49, making up 62%. In contrast, people ages 50 and older made up only 30% of the complaints.
9. The Nigerian prince lives!
Consumers reporting how they were contacted said scammers approached them by email 43% of the time, by phone 29% of the time and via the Internet 13% of the time.
10. Snail mail just isn't what it used to be.
Complaints about mail scams have dropped from 13% in 2009 to 7% in 2011, while those through email and Internet have remained steady.
11. And here's our favorite country: Nigerian entities ranked fourth of the 10 most complained about nations for fraud with 2%.
The United States, in the No. 1 spot, made up 80% of the cases, and Ghana came in 10th with under 1%.
12. Identity thieves love our government -- or at least its money.
Government documents or benefits were the most likely reported identity theft targets, with 27%. Of those, 24% were tax- or wage-related. Other major sources of identity theft complaints included credit cards at 14%; phone and utilities at 13%; bank and loan fraud at 12%; and employment-related at 8%.
13. Military personnel more likely to be victimes of credit card theft.
People in the military are more likely to get hit by credit card identity theft than ID theft involving government documents or benefits.
14. Maybe it's the weather, but Colorado ranks at the top for fraudulent cases per 100,000 people with 573.7 or almost 29,000 total complaints.
North Dakota is at the bottom for the 50 states with 257.5 per 100,000 or 1,730 total complaints. Florida tops out the ranking for identity theft (178.7 per 100,000, or 33,600 total complaints), with North Dakota again at the bottom (23.2 per 100,000 or 156 total complaints).
15. California has the most total complaints about fraudulent cases.
In terms of sheer volume, the Golden State drew the most total complaints of fraudulent cases with 156,000; and again with identity theft, 38,600 complaints.
16. Could it be the high altitude?
Three metropolitan areas in Colorado ranked in the top 10 for fraud: Greeley (first), Colorado Springs (third) and Boulder (fifth). Two North Carolina metropolitan areas made the top 10, with Thomasville-Lexington in second and Dunn in fourth.
17. Identity thieves seem to like warmer climates.
Three Georgia metropolitan areas ranked in the top 10 for identity theft (the state of Georgia was second): Columbus (fourth); Savannah (ninth); and Albany (10th). Three Florida metropolitan areas were in the top 10: Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (first); Port St. Lucie (sixth); and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater (seventh).