America's 10 Worst States for Fraud

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Identity theft fraudBy Michael B. Sauter, 24/7 Wall St.

When times are hard, fraud often gets worse. Americans are under great financial pressure, and there is no shortage of criminals waiting to take advantage of it. According to the most recent report published by the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 1.8 million complaints of fraud, identity theft or some other deceptive business practices last year. This is up roughly 40% from 2010. 24/7 Wall St. examined the 10 states that had the most complaints in proportion to the size of their populations.

More than 30 different categories of complaints were recorded in 2011. Identity theft was the most common one, representing 15% of all complaints. Many other categories relate to a growing number of Americans in debt as a result of the recession and the housing crash. Debt collection fraud was the second most common category, defined by the FTC as consumers reporting abuse by both legitimate debt collectors and those pretending to be. Other categories included banking and lending scams, as well as scams arising from promises of relief from mortgage debt.

The FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection has focused in the past five years on "last dollar frauds," such as mortgage foreclosure rescue scams. According to associate director of the Division of Planning and Labor David Torok, "These are the truly pernicious frauds that steal from the consumers that are facing economic problems." These frauds take advantage of consumers in need, "ripping them off under the guise of trying to help them."

Not surprisingly, many of the states that had the highest rates of fraud also experienced the worst of the recession. Five of the 10 worst-off states lost at least 25% of total home value from their prerecession peaks. Seven of the states on this list have among the highest percentage of homeowners who were delinquent on housing payments at the end of 2011.

According to John Simpson at Consumer Watchdog, "It makes sense that states with the highest levels of debt and biggest declines in home value would be the hardest hit by fraud." People is these states "were willing to try solutions that were obviously too good to be true."

While some of the states with the worst rates of fraud have residents that are struggling, many of these states also have relatively wealthy populations who carry a lot of household debt. Six of the 10 states with the highest rates of fraud have among the top 15 highest median incomes. Eight of the states are in the top 15 for mortgage debt per person, and five are in the top 10 for highest credit card debt, according to credit data analytics firm Credit Karma.

In order to identify the 10 states with the highest incidence of fraud, 24/7 Wall st. reviewed data from the FTC's Sentinel Network Data Book, which compiles the total number of complaints for each state. These complaints are divided between identity theft and a second category, which includes all other kinds of fraud. 24/7 Wall St. combined the total complaints of fraud per 100,000 people in each of these categories.

These are the 10 worst states for fraud.

America's 10 Worst States for Fraud

Complaints per 100,000 population: 538
Total complaints: 47,336
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 86.4 (8th most)
Recession home value decline: 19.2% (17th largest)
Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 10.6% (3rd most)

New Jersey had 47,336 fraud related complaints in 2011, or the equivalent of 538 per 100,000 people. The state had roughly 7,600 reports of identity theft last year and nearly 40,000 complaints categorized as fraud or other. Thirteen percent of fraud reports in the state fell into the "advance fee loans and credit protection/repair" category. New Jersey has, according to Credit Karma, the fourth highest credit card debt per capita and mortgage debt per capita.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 546
Total complaints: 36,685
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 72.2 (18th most)
Recession home value decline: 26.6% (8th largest)
Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 6.2% (22nd most)

In 2011, Washington state residents reported 36,685 counts of fraud, or 546 for every 100,000 people. The Mount Vernon-Anacortes Metropolitan region was a particularly hard-hit area, reporting a rate of 833.4 cases per 100,000 residents. The most common type of complaint was debt collection fraud, followed by Internet services and prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries. While the state is among the worst in several categories, identity theft is not a serious problem. Washington only ranks 18th-worst in the country.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 568
Total complaints: 55,020
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 120 (2nd most)
Recession home value decline: 26% (10th largest)
%19 > Total complaints: (6th most)

Georgia only had the 13th-highest level of fraud and other than identity theft complaints. Meanwhile, identity theft complaints were 120 per every 100,000 residents, the second worst in the country. Credit card fraud accounted for 17% of identity theft. Phone and utilities fraud accounted for 14% and bank fraud for 12%.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 595
Total complaints: 47,581
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 67.7 (21st most)
Recession home value decline: 16.7% (21st largest)
Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 4.1% (10th fewest)

Virginia's reported incidents of identity theft relative to the size of the state's population were about average relative to the rest of the country. However, the state had the fifth-highest rate of fraud and other complaints, at 527 incidents per 100,000 people. After debt collection fraud reports, the most common complaints were shop-at-home catalog sales, followed by banks and lenders. The state has the ninth-highest credit card debt per capita in the country, the seventh-highest mortgage debt per capita and the 10th-worst average credit score.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 602
Total complaints: 38,561
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 98.5 (4th most)
Recession home value decline: 47.9% (2nd largest)
 Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 7.1% (11th most)

From the prerecession peak, home prices have declined nearly 50% in Arizona - the second-biggest drop in the country. As of the end of last year, 7.1% of homeowners are delinquent on their payments, the 11th-highest rate in the country. And even with a low median home value, the state has among the highest average mortgage debt per capita in the United States. It may not be surprising to find many complaints related to debt collection, loans and mortgage payments. Employment-related fraud accounted for nearly 25% of all identity theft, one of the highest rates in the country.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 620
Total complaints: 36,561
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 89.9 (7th most)
Recession home value decline: 60% (the largest)
 Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 13.4% (2nd most)

Home values in Nevada fell by approximately 60% from their prerecession peaks last year, the biggest decline in the country. The housing crisis led to high unemployment and a large percentage of homeowners either have underwater mortgage or are in foreclosure. According to Credit Karma, Nevada residents have the 10th-highest mortgage debt per capita and the seventh-highest credit card debt per capita. State residents reported an average of 620 consumer-related complaints per person. Some 530 of those complaints per person fall into the fraud and other offenses section and the rest into identity theft.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 633
Total complaints: 36,561
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 86.3 (9th most)
Recession home value decline: 23.7% (12th largest)
Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 8% (5th most)

Maryland had the third-greatest level of fraud reports excluding identity theft, with 547 complaints per 100,000 residents. The state ranks ninth for identity theft complaints, with 86.3 complaints per 100,000 population. Maryland has the fifth highest rate of fraud regarding debt collection at 56.2 complaints per 100,000 population. In the identity theft category, the most common complaint is employment-related fraud.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 636
Total complaints: 5,708
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 83.5 (10th most)
Recession home value decline: 20.3% (16th largest)
Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 6.7% (16th most)

Twenty-one percent of Delaware's identity theft complaints involve phone or utilities fraud. This is a higher percentage than any other state on our list. Delaware also has, by a large margin, the greatest rate of debt collection complaints in the country, with 69.8 complaints per 100,000 residents. Nevada had the second-highest level of debt collection complaints at 57.8 complaints per 100,000 residents.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 656
Total complaints: 33,010
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 82.6 (11th most)
Recession home value decline: 6.9% (15th smallest)
Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 4.1% (8th fewest)

Colorado has the highest per capita rate of fraud complaints other than identity theft. In 2011, the state had 573.7 fraud complaints per 100,000 population. The Greeley metropolitan area, had the second-highest rate of fraud complaints in the country at 946.1 per 100,000 population, and the Boulder metropolitan statistical area, or Boulder County, had the fifth-highest rate at 884.2 per 100,000 population. Debt collection was the biggest source of non-identity theft fraud, followed by problems with Internet services and shop-at-home catalog sales.

Complaints per 100,000 population: 694
Total complaints: 130,449
Identity theft complaints per 100,000: 178.7 (the most)
Recession home value decline: 44.8% (4th largest)
Homes late on payment or in foreclosure: 17.4% (the most)

Florida has, far and away, the highest per capita rate of identity theft reports in the country. In 2011, the state had 178.7 complaints per 100,000 population. The greatest percentage of these complaints, 51% in total, involved government documents or benefits fraud. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area, also known as the Miami metropolitan area, had the highest rate of identity theft complaints in the state and in the country at 324.1 complaints per 100,000 residents. This is nearly double the next-highest MSA.

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