South Florida leads nation in identity theft, feds report

West Palm Beach, Fla. - Florida lived up to its worst stereotype last year, leading the nation in complaints about fraud and identity theft.

In 2012, the number of consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission topped 2 million for the first time, up from 1.8 million in 2011. Of those, 369,132 - 18 percent - were related to identity theft, a 3 percent increase from a year ago, the agency said Tuesday.

Identity theft tops the complaint list for the 13th consecutive year. Debt collection complaints came in second with 199,721, or 10 percent.

Florida is the state with the highest per capita rate of reported fraud and other complaints with 133,973, or 693.5 per 100,000 population. Nationwide, consumers reported paying more than $1.4 billion in those fraud complaints. The median amount paid to fraudsters was $535 nationally.

The Sunshine State is also first in identity theft complaints, with 69,795, or 361.3 per 100,000 population.

Among metropolitan areas, Palm Beach County, Broward County and Miami-Dade County combined rank first in the nation in identity theft-related complaints. With 35,914 ID theft complaints from South Floridians in 2012, that's 645.4 per 100,000 people.

Michael Galvin, spokesman for the West Palm Beach-based Better Business Bureau of Southeast Florida and the Caribbean, said the numbers do not surprise him. The BBB is one of the organizations which contributes data to the FTC's annual report.

"The demographics lead the charge. Due to the age of the population, people are more vulnerable," Galvin said.

"People who were dealing in drugs and weapons are now dealing on the Internet and doing identity theft because it is easier. If they get caught, the time is not as much as it is dealing with drugs. These are syndicates, gangs that are well-organized," Galvin said.

People need to be vigilant about who they give personal information to, especially on the Internet, Galvin said.

"People are entering personal information and don't think twice about it. Everybody has to be prepared to make changes. Corporations on the Internet are asking for information that is vulnerable," Galvin said.

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