Delaware consumer fraud complaints rate second in nation

Feb 7th, 2021 · by Craig Anderson ·

DOVER — Delaware consumers made the second highest rate of fraud reports in the nation per capital in 2020, according to information released by the Federal Trade Commission last week.

The information was included in the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network database, which placed the First State behind only Nevada in highest frequency of fraud complaints.

Delawareans reported losing $9,127,134 to scams last year in 6,651 reports, with a median loss of $400 and average of roughly $1,372 per report.

Identity theft made up 29% of Delaware’s reports overall, and included credit card, bank, loan, lease, phone or utilities fraud, along with other identity thefts, according to the FTC. The First State was No. 12 nationally per capita in identity thefts.
The FTC said it received a total of 10,970 reports overall from consumers in Delaware in 2020.

While the DOJ said the number of reports received were not notably higher from last year, Attorney General Kathy Jennings said, “Scams are always a threat and seem to become more persistent and sophisticated each year.

“Particularly in this time of uncertainty, we are working as hard as ever to disrupt them and to protect consumers.

“It’s more important than ever that consumers protect themselves and take every precaution to secure their information, exercise vigilance about any request for personal or financial information, and report any scam or scam attempts to our Consumer Protection Unit.”

DOJ spokesman Rony Baltazar urged quick reporting of suspected fraud cases because “the sooner they involve our office, the more likely we are to be able to intervene in a meaningful way. Time is not our friend when it comes to scams — money quickly moves beyond the reach of law enforcement.”

According to Mr. Baltazar, other reports coming include “scammers claiming to call from Delaware public safety agencies, utility companies, and other local entities, as well as common scams that often target seniors and other vulnerable groups (e.g., romance scams and so-called ‘grandparent’ scams).

“We advise about these scams when possible and urge consumers to be vigilant about anything that sounds too good to be true.”

Protecting the public

Information on the Delaware Department of Justice’s Consumer Protection Unit is available online at attorneygeneral.delaware.gov/fraud/cpu/.

The CPU is tasked with enforcing with protecting the public from consumer fraud and scams and enforcing statutes.

“In addition to pursuing enforcement action against those who violate our consumer protection laws, the CPU also participates in community outreach and consumer education events, engages in consumer advocacy, and actively contributes to coordinated state and federal consumer protection investigations and initiatives,” according to the DOJ on its website.

Also, the CPU proactively educates Delawareans on the nature of consumer fraud scams and how to best avoid becoming a victim. The CPU meets with community groups and shares information through seminars, presentations and other consumer events, according to the CPU section on the DOJ’s website.

Along with issuing consumer alerts, the CPU distributes brochures and fact sheets with consumer tips. The information is available via mail and on the website.

“The Attorney General and the Consumer Protection Unit work with local, state and federal agencies to coordinate investigative, enforcement, and educational efforts to protect our citizens and enforce our laws,” according to the website.

Presentations by the CPU can be scheduled by calling 800-220-5424 or 577-8600.

Describing identity theft as “one of the fastest growing areas of consumer crime in the country, and one of the most difficult to resolve, once it takes place,” the DOJ posted protection tips online including:

• Guard your financial information. Never give out your Social Security number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers or any other personal or financial information to anyone you don’t know. And guard all your receipts — especially if they reflect your financial account numbers.

• Deal only with reputable vendors. Avoid dealing with businesses you don’t know, especially when their offers come to you by e-mail or through telephone calls from people you don’t know. No matter how good the deal may sound, walk away. Identity thieves often pitch great deals to make sure they can lure their victims in quickly.

• Check your credit report often. Evidence of identity theft often shows up before the victim even realizes what has happened. Criminals often attempt to get credit under other people’s names or Social Security numbers, and these attempts will show up on credit bureau reports.

To obtain your free credit report: Go to www.annualcreditreport.com, call 877-322-8228, or mail your request to Annual Credit report Request Service, P.O. Box 10521, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281.

• Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable about doing business with someone, or feel pressured to give up your confidential information, walk away. It is much better to take the time to think through an offer and to do more research, than it is to hand over your confidential personal or financial information to a criminal. Legitimate businesses want your repeat business, and will gladly give you time to do your homework first.

What to do

The DOJ recommends the following steps for an identity theft victim to take:

Step 1: Contact the police.

The first step you need to take is to report the fraud to your local police department. This step is important for two reasons:
First, it immediately alerts local law enforcement to the crime. Second, it establishes that you acted diligently, and enables you to get a police report, complaint number or other similar record, which you may need when contacting some of your creditors.
If you are not sure which law enforcement agency to contact, call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit at (800) 220-5424. The Consumer Protection Unit can help you get in touch with the proper police agency, and can answer any other Identity Theft questions you may have.

Step 2: Promptly report the fraud to the three major credit bureaus.

Because identity thieves often attempt to obtain credit under your identity, it is important to promptly contact the three major credit bureaus to report the fraud. Ask each credit bureau to take a report, and to place a “fraud alert” on your credit report.

Also, ask each credit bureau to send you a copy of your credit report, so you can determine the extent of any unlawful credit activity that may have taken place using your identity. If you already have a police report, file number or complaint number from your local law enforcement agency, you should give that information to the three major credit bureaus as well, to help them investigate any disputed accounts or other reports of fraud.

Step 3: Consider placing a security freeze on your credit report to prevent unauthorized release. Contact information is available online at attorneygeneral.delaware.gov/fraud/cpu/idtheft/.

Step 4: Contact the Fraud Department of each of your creditors and banks.

Locate all your credit cards, your banks and other creditor information (such as utilities, cable, etc.) and contact their “fraud” departments. Report the fraud to each creditor, even if your account with that creditor has not been directly affected by the identity theft, to ensure each creditor is aware of the potential of a crime taking place.

Ask each creditor to place a “fraud alert” on your account. If there are charges on your accounts that are illegal, most creditors will also ask you to submit a written report of the fraud, along with a police report, or a police complaint number or file number.

If you need help with any of these steps, you may contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit at (800) 220-5424 to request the Attorney General’s Identify Theft Victim Kit. This kit contains everything you need to promptly report identity theft, and also includes an Identity Theft Affidavit which you may use to submit your theft reports to your creditors.
Step 5: Report the fraud to the FTC.

The FTC maintains a confidential, national Identity Theft database, and may also be able to assist in pursuing identity thieves through federal channels. The FTC may be reached at (877) IDTHEFT (877-438-4338).

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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