Consumer fraud cases up 9 percent in Hawai'i
By Greg Wiles
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Greg Wiles
The number of consumer fraud complaints from Hawai'i jumped by 9 percent last year, propelling the state to a top-10 ranking nationally for complaints as a percentage of residents, according to a new Federal Trade Commission report.
The report released yesterday said there were 157.1 fraud complaints per 100,000 Hawai'i residents, which ranked seventh in the nation. Hawai'i's complaint ratio a year earlier ranked the state 13th. The FTC also reported that the number of Hawai'i identity-theft complaints declined from a year earlier.
The numbers were culled from complaints received by the FTC and other organizations and are made available to law enforcement officials for investigations. The FTC said there were 2,020 complaints from the Aloha State involving payments of $11 million.
The top complaint categories were home-shopping/catalog sales, Internet auctions, Internet services and computers, prizes/sweepstakes and lotteries and foreign money offers.
There was good news about identity-theft complaints, which declined to 615 from 810 a year earlier. During the year there were several highly publicized identity-theft initiatives by state and local governments, along with new laws enacting more protections for residents. Hawai'i dropped to 39th in the identity-theft rankings, from 25th a year earlier.
Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection, said the figures are valid for what they are, but may not be entirely representative of fraud in Hawai'i. He said that's because there's no uniform system of reporting scams, identity theft and other fraudulent schemes. Some identity theft crimes, for example, may be reported as credit card fraud by some people.
He said other people may not report fraud because they are embarrassed. He said there have been numerous times when people have told him that they or a family member were victimized in sweepstakes scams that they did not report to authorities. He said a Hawai'i identity theft task force is examining uniform reporting as one of its issues.
"The figure could be worse but we don't know unless people file complaints," Levins said. Still, the FTC numbers provide some basis for issuing warnings, he said.
His own office's figures are categorized differently and show Internet goods and services as the top complaint.
That's followed by financial services and investments, automobile and car rentals, furniture, appliances and home furnishings, and lending and mortgages in the top five.
The FTC reported Utah was the worst state for fraud complaints with 178.9 per 100,000 people.
South Dakota had the fewest, with a 79 per 100,000 people.
Reach Greg Wiles at email@example.com.