Internet

Internet contributes to rise of identity theft, FTC says

Calls to the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft hotline have tripled in the past six months, and the Internet is partly to blame.

Calls to the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft hotline have tripled in the past six months, and the Internet is partly to blame.

The FTC said today that it received an average of 1,000 calls per week to its Identity Theft hotline during the month of July. By comparison, the department received some 400 calls per week in March, said FTC attorney Helen Foster.

"We think that perpetrators who would hesitate to show up to a bank or apply for a credit card in person would find it much easier to do over the Internet," Foster said. "Applying for credit over the Internet is a faceless thing to do."

Foster also said that the Internet acts as a conduit for the dissemination of people's personal data, including names, addresses, credit card numbers and other identifying information.

The most common FTC complaint involved credit card fraud, with 50 percent of consumers complaining of credit cards opened in their name or similar activities, according to an FTC statement.

Cell phone fraud came in second, accounting for 28 percent of reported complaints. In these cases, thieves steal a cell phone's encryption numbers and transfer them to different phones, which results in the calls being charged to the original phones.

Other consumers reported having bank accounts opened in their name or having imposters gain loans in their name.

"It's both high tech and low tech," Foster said. "We have people who are dumpster diving and people using skimmers to collect encryption numbers from people's cell phones."