Scam artists pilfered over $18 million from Tennesseans in 2018, making the Volunteer State the nation’s fifth-leading state per capita when it comes to complaints about fraud and other scams, according to a new report by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Reports of identity theft also grew in a year’s time, moving Tennessee to 21st in the country in 2018.

The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance’s (TDCI) Division of Consumer Affairs, who highlighted consumer education during National Consumer Protection Week, urged Tennesseans to renew their efforts to protect their families by learning the “red flags” that might indicate a scammer’s activity and to always report suspected fraud to local law enforcement.

“The FTC’s new report and ranking is a wakeup call for Tennesseans to renew their efforts to protect their families from fraud, scam artists, and identity theft,” said TDCI Commissioner Julie Mix McPeak. “Scam artists may promise once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, but, in fact, they’re ripping off hard-working Tennesseans and their families. If consumers believe they have been victimized by a scammer, they should report the incident to their local law enforcement agencies. Additionally, they can file a complaint through the Division of Consumer Affairs.”

The FTC’s report was compiled from complaints to the FTC’s call center or online as well as complaints filed with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and other organizations.

Other Tennessee-related details from the report include:

· Tennessee’s total fraud losses were $18.4 million with the median loss $345 in 2018; last year, Tennessee’s fraud losses were $13.7 million with the median fraud loss of $444.

· Tennessee had 53,014 complaints of fraud and other reports compared to 43,579 last year;

· Memphis ranked 32nd in the FTC’s top 50 metropolitan areas for fraud reports;

· Memphis ranked ninth in the top 50 metropolitan areas for identity theft reports.

The FTC found Tennessee’s top three complaint areas (debt collection, imposter scams and identity theft) remained unchanged since the 2017 report. With complaints about debt collectors as Tennesseans’ top complaint area, the Division of Consumer Affairs and the state Collections Board reminds Tennesseans to be wary of unscrupulous and illegal practices of debt collection agencies.

Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse consumers or any third parties they contact. For example, debt collectors may not use threats of violence or harm, publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies), use obscene or profane language, repeatedly use phone communication to annoy you, contact you at inconvenient or unusual time periods (between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. is considered acceptable); contact you at work if the collector knows, or has reason to know, the employer prohibits such communication; contact you after you provided a notice in writing that you wish the communication to cease.

Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives; falsely claim that you have committed a crime; falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company; or misrepresent the amount you owe.

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