February 21, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman
LEXINGTON, KY.

Identify theft is the most common fraud complaint the Federal Trade Commission receives each year. While also topping the list in Kentucky, the state has fewer incidences than all but six states.

Although still a serious issue, Robert Flashman, a resource management specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, said he believes coordinated educational programs have helped Kentucky residents to protect their identities. Cooperative Extension Service through its county agents for family and consumer science, Kentucky Attorney General’s Office, Office of Consumer Protection, and Kentucky Extension Homemakers have worked to make consumers aware of the dangers and of ways to protect themselves.

“We have worked very closely with government agencies as well as with Homemakers to help educate consumers,” he said. “We have also worked to get the word out that if your information has been compromised, such as your social security number accidentally being placed on the internet by an employer or agency, to act quickly to protect your name.”

During the 2006 Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association’s annual meeting, Flashman worked with management and safety committee chair Stephanie Lancaster to put together a program for Homemakers.

“It was a topic they were interested in,” said Lancaster of Glasgow.

With approximately 20,000 members, the Homemakers association is a great way to spread the word on an important topic, she said. Homemakers also share the information with others back in their local communities, further spreading the message.

In addition to last year’s annual meeting program, identity theft and consumer fraud have been topics at various Homemaker functions across the state. Information on identity theft as well as other topics is available under the management and safety link at the Web site http://www.keha.org. Lancaster initiated this first program area Web site for the management and safety committee during her tenure as chair.

In the FTC’s annual report on consumer complaints for 2006, identity theft led the list for the seventh year in a row, accounting for 36 percent of the 674,354 complaints, followed by shop-at-home/catalog sales. Credit card fraud was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by phone or utilities fraud, bank fraud and employment fraud. 

In 2006, the FTC received 4,477 fraud complaints and 1,766 identity theft complaints from Kentucky consumers, ranking the state 44th in the nation in identity theft complaints per 100,000 people. Other top fraud complaints for Kentucky were prizes/sweepstakes and lotteries, shop-at-home/catalog sales, internet auctions, internet services and computer complaints, and foreign money offers.

When breaches in computer files occur, Flashman said Extension agents direct people to the attorney general’s Web site http://ag.ky.gov/consumer/identity.

Protecting yourself against identity theft and consumer frauds is important, Flashman said. Victims can spend years recovering. They may be turned down for credit, for housing, and for employment. 

To help Kentucky residents protect themselves from identity fraud and other types of consumer fraud, the Cooperative Extension Service has two publications, “Let the Consumer Beware! A Guide to Fraud and Rip-Offs” and “Making Your Ride on the Internet Safer,” available in each of their 120 offices across the state.

Contact: 

Robert Flashman, 859-257-7758