March 1st through the 7th is Consumer Awareness Week. This year, the Federal Trade Commission (along with an army of partners) are providing a user-friendly set of free e-tools designed to help the average "Joe or Jolene" safely navigate the murky waters they face in the current economic environment.
Besides teaching us how to make the most of our financial resources, the tools also teach how to avoid the underground army of not very honest people who are spreading more economic doom and gloom with too-good-to-be-true schemes designed to take advantage of the grim economic situation.
The Web site for the 11th annual National Consumer Protection Week is now up and running. Launched by the Federal Trade Commission and its NCPW (National Consumer Protection Week) Steering Committee partners, the site gives people free tools to make smart business decisions in today’s economy. The information on the site is designed to help the average person get the most value for their money, whether they are trying to improve their credit history, tell the difference between a real deal and a rip-off, or protect their mortgage from foreclosure or foreclosure rescue scams. It explains their rights under various laws and tells how to file a complaint or seek assistance from the appropriate government agency.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, scam artists, fraudsters, hackers and flim flam artists follow the headlines and use the current economic downturn to part people from their hard-earned (and ever-dwindling) financial resources. The NCPW Web site has tools (educational resources) to teach people how to recognize a ripoff, sniff out a scam and ensure they are getting value for their dollar in today's marketplace.
The site has tips on a wide range of topics from partner organizations. These tips include from how to get a free credit report to how to spot a telemarketing scam and how to deal with debt to how to deter and detect identity theft and from how to avoid home and auto repair scams. Also included is detailed information on how to file a complaint with the appropriate agency if you do run into an issue.
Of course, on a personal level, I always recommend reporting them if you spot a problem and are able to avoid becoming a statistic, also. This can prevent a less educated person from becoming a victim and is a good deed.
The FTC partners involved in providing this information include the AARP, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Consumer Federation of America, the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the Federal Citizen’s Information Center, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Association of Attorneys General, the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators, the National Consumers League, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Postal Service.
The FTC also just released the top complaints they received in 2008. For the ninth year in a row, identity theft came in at number one. 1,223,370 complaints were received in 2008. 313,982 (26%) were related to identity theft.
Not surprisingly, with all the data breaches seen recently, credit card fraud was the most common form reported. This was followed by government documents/benefits fraud at 15%, employment fraud at 15%, phone or utilities fraud at 13%, bank fraud at 11% and loan fraud at 4%.
Other complaint categories included Third Party and Creditor Debt Collection, Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales, Internet Services, Foreign Money Offers and Counterfeit Check Scams, Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers and Report Users, Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries, Television and Electronic Media, Banks and Lenders, Telecom Equipment and Mobile Services, Computer Equipment and Software, Business Opportunities, Employment Agencies and Work-at-Home, Internet Auction, Advance-Fee Loans and Credit Protection/Repair, Health Care, Auto Related Complaints, Travel, Vacations and Timeshare Plans, Credit Cards, Magazines and Buyers Clubs and Telephone Services.