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The top frauds of 2016

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Three million of you called, wrote, or went online to tell us about fraud or identity theft in 2016. Each one of those reports is important to us – and to other law enforcement nationwide and helps us bring cases against scammers of all kinds. Sometimes, these cases result in refunds for the affected consumers. But these reports also add up to a picture of what happened during the year.

2016’s big news is that, for the first time, imposter scams passed identity theft for the number of complaints. Debt collection was the top complaint for the second year in a row – thanks in large part to one contributor of reports that lets people forward debt collection messages from their mobile phone. But imposter scams are number two, followed by identity theft. That shift is notable – people are reporting government imposter scams in increasing numbers.

What else was news in 2016?

  • For military consumers, imposter scams are the number one complaint category, followed by identity theft.
  • Out of the 1.3 million fraud reports we got in 2016, people reported paying $744 million to scammers – with a median payment of $450.
  • More than half of people who reported told us how they were contacted for the scam – and 77% of those people said it was the telephone. Only 8% said email and 3% said mail.

While reports of fraud were 42% of reports in 2016, identity theft was 13% of reports – most of it about employment- or tax-related fraud (34%) or credit card fraud (33%). And there’s lots more information in the Consumer Sentinel Data Book, just released today. Look up your state and see what people are reporting in your communities.

Your reports matter. In 2016, the FTC brought cases that forced companies like Volkswagen ($10 billion) and Herbalife ($200 million) to refund money to consumers injured by those companies’ deceptive practices, and also directly returned over $160 million to people affected by scams.

If you ever spot a scam, please tell the FTC. Here’s why:


Blog Topics: 
Money & Credit


You can ask for help in your home city or state. Also, you can ask for help in the city where you sent the money. Does the money transfer company have a fraud department or consumer protection office? Does your city or state have a consumer protection office?

You can report a scam to the Federal Trade Commission online. The Federal Trade Commission can not give you personal help. Please report a scam that happened outside the U.S. at

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