One in six U.S. adults was victimized by fraud over the course of a year, from long-distance phone service switched without their permission to magazine subscriptions that never arrive, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday.
Some 25 million Americans paid for loans that never came through, signed up for illegal “credit repair” services that didn’t improve their credit scores, or otherwise lost money in fraudulent scams, the FTC reported.
Another 14 million had their long-distance phone service switched without their permission, a practice known as “slamming,” the FTC said in its first-ever survey of consumer fraud.
The survey of 2,500 consumers was taken late May and early June of 2003. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent. An FTC statistician said the time since the survey was taken was spent analyzing the results and compiling the report.
Many of the most common scams revolved around credit. Advance-fee loans that charge a fee for loans or credit cards that never arrive were the most common. Unnecessary credit-card insurance was another common scam — by law, credit-card users already don’t have to pay for charges above $50 they don’t authorize.
Others were billed for memberships in “buyers’ clubs” without their permission, paid money for prizes that never arrived, or were taken in by pyramid schemes, the FTC said.
Only 8 percent reported these schemes to authorities, said Howard Beales, head of the FTC’s consumer-protection division.
“We wish more people would complain, because then we would have information about where the problems are,” said Beales, who is scheduled to end his term at the agency tomorrow.
American Indians were most likely to be fraud victims, with one in three reporting they had experienced fraud during the period surveyed, from May 2002 to May 2003. Other racial and ethic minorities were also somewhat more likely to be fraud victims than whites.
People struggling with a heavy debt load and those who expected their incomes to rise significantly were most likely to fall victim to fraud, the survey found.
The survey found no significant variations by income or educational level.