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Scams

ID Theft Remains Top FTC Complaint

Phony pleas for help are also high on the FTC's complaint list.

Identity theft continues to be the number-one consumer complaint, says the Federal Trade Commission. Our next-biggest headache: harassment from debt collectors. ID theft topped the FTC's list of consumer complaints for the eleventh straight year in 2010, garnering nearly one-fifth of 1.3 million complaints received. For the first time, impostor scams made the list. Other categories with lots of complaints include Internet services, prize offerings, sweepstakes and lotteries, and catalog sales.

At least the number of ID-theft complaints is dropping slightly. Vigilance is your best protection, says Todd Davis, CEO of LifeLock, an identity-theft protection firm -- especially when using a wireless Internet connection, which offers easy, unseen access for criminals. Protect your wireless connection with a password that you set. When you're not on the computer, turn off your router so it doesn't send a signal announcing its presence. Never assume a public "hot spot" is secure; avoid paying bills or entering your name and passwords (even to look at your Facebook account) in public.

Peer-to-peer file sharing also poses risks. When you're connected to a sharing site, files you assume to be private, including financial records and tax returns, may be accessible to others. Set up separate, limited-access user accounts on your computer to download music or games.

Impostor scams can come through phone calls, e-mails, letters or text messages. The communication often purports to be from a stranded friend or relative who needs you to wire money so that he or she can get home. Check before complying because wiring money is like mailing cash. Once sent, you can't get it back.