State Government & Citizen Engagement

Consumer Protection

Virginians are facing the growing threats of fraud and identity theft.

Why is This Important?

Consumer fraud and identity theft are growing problems across America. In 2005 alone, Consumer Sentinel, the complaint database set up by the Federal Trade Commission, received over 685,000 consumer fraud and identity theft complaints. Consumers reported losses of more than $680 million.

How is Virginia Doing?

Rate of Consumer Fraud Complaints. See text for explanation. Rate of Identity Theft Complaints. See text for explanation.

Of the complaints made to Consumer Sentinel in 2006, Virginia had the 6th highest consumer fraud rate at 157.5 per 100,000 population and the 15th highest identity theft rate at 67.2 per 100,000 population. While still increasing, the rate of fraud cases is slowly starting to level off. The rate of identify theft cases decreased slightly in 2006 from a high of 68.2 in 2005. The national consumer fraud average was 143.1 and the national identification theft was 82.1 in 2006, which were both slightly lower than their 2005 rates. Virginians reported 12,039 fraud cases in 2006. The top fraud categories reported by Virginians, regardless of where the perpetrators were located, were:

  1. Internet auctions
  2. Prizes/sweepstakes and lotteries
  3. Shop-at-home/catalog sales
  4. Foreign money offers
  5. Internet services and computer complaints

Nationally, the lowest rate of fraud complaints in 2006 was in South Dakota at 79 per 100,000 population. Tennessee's rate of consumer fraud complaints stood at 113.8; Maryland was 154.1 and North Carolina was 116.3 per 100,000 population. Winchester, VA-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area was the only Metropolitan area in Virginia that fell within the top 50 consumer fraud complaint areas nationwide, ranking 14th.

In 2005, 5,137 Virginians reported some form of identity theft. The top types of identity theft include:

  1. Credit card fraud
  2. Phone or utilities fraud
  3. Bank fraud
  4. Employment-related fraud
  5. Government documents or benefits fraud
  6. Loan fraud

Tennessee's rate of identity theft was 61.3, Maryland's was 82.9 and North Carolina's was 64.9 per 100,000 population. The national average was 82.2 per 100,000 population. No major metropolitan area in Virginia fell within the top 50 areas for identity theft complaints.

What Influences Consumer Protection?

Education and information, legislation, and effective law enforcement all work together to reduce consumer fraud and identity theft.

What is the State's Role?

The state's role is to educate residents on how to protect themselves; to enact appropriate legislation; and to investigate and prosecute offenders. Within Virginia, the Office of Consumer Affairs at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services provides protection to consumers against fraudulent, deceptive and illegal practices in the marketplace. In addition, various other agencies provide consumer information, including the Department for the Aging, the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation and the State Corporation Commission. In terms of law enforcement, the Investigations Unit at the Office of Consumer Affairs handles consumer complaints that may contain violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The Investigations Unit works closely with the Office of Attorney General and local Commonwealth's Attorneys to stop illegal activities, and to pursue civil and criminal prosecutions.

Data Definitions and Sources

Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Sentinel, "Consumer Fraud and identity Complaint Data" (2004, 2005, 2006). Population data based on U.S. Census estimates, 2005.
www.consumer.gov/sentinel/trends.htm

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Recent State Initiatives

Consumer Assistance Portal
www.vdacs.virginia.gov/ consumers/index.shtml

Major State Programs

VDACS Office of Consumer Affairs: Provides protection to consumers against fraudulent, deceptive, and illegal practices in the marketplace. Handles complaints in which the product or service is intended for personal, home or family use.
www.vdacs.virginia.gov/ consumers/about.shtml

State Corporation Commission: Handles complaints regarding insurance companies, financial institutions, securities and retail franchising, utilities, and telephone companies.
www.scc.virginia.gov/consinfo.htm

Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation: Handles complaints against individuals and entities that are subject to oversight by the boards within the department.
www.dpor.virginia.gov/ dporweb/enf_main.cfm

Motor Vehicle Dealer Board: Handles complaints involving automobile dealers.
www.mvdb.virginia.gov/