Learn More About How You Can Avoid Financial Scams and Fraud During National Consumer Protection Week

Highlighting consumer protection from March 6—12.
Photo from the Federal Trade Commission.

Crimes against consumers have always been a problem in the United States, but in recent years, the number of reported cases has skyrocketed.

According to data collected by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 2021 saw a dramatic increase in the number of instances of fraud, identity theft, and illegal business practices experienced by American consumers.

During the year, the FTC received a total of 5.7 million consumer complaint reports nationwide, which marked a 16% increase from 2020's 4.9 million reports and a whopping 68% increase from the 3.4 million reports received in 2019.

The top consumer complaint categories in 2021 were identity theft, which accounted for 25% of all complaints, followed by imposter scams (16%), and reports regarding fraudulent activities connected with credit bureaus (12%), online shopping (7%), and banks and other lending institutions (4%). 

The reason behind the big jump in the number of complaints is two-fold.

First, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of hours consumers spend online, making them more vulnerable to scams perpetrated through email, social media, and the internet. Second, those who are perpetrating the scams have increased in number and have become more sophisticated in their criminal methods. 

Consumers, however, can lessen their chances of being scammed by learning more about what scams look like and taking the necessary precautions to avoid them. 

The FTC's National Consumer Protection Week, which is being held March 6—12, 2022, provides the perfect opportunity for everyone to improve their knowledge and skills in combating consumer fraud. 

Throughout the week, the FTC is hosting a series of webinars on a variety of topics related to consumer protection. Daily instructional tips will also be shared on the FTC's Facebook and Twitter accounts. 

Locally, the Alabama Attorney General's Office maintains a Consumer Interest Division that is dedicated to researching, monitoring, and preventing consumer scams and fraud in the state. 

Residents can contact the division to report their consumer-related complaints by phoning 1-800-392-5658 or by emailing ConsumerInterest@AlabamaAG.gov. 

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is also a great resource for consumers to learn ways to protect themselves from scams and frauds. Pertinent topics covered in the library's catalog of books, ebooks, audiobooks, and DVDs include identity theft, fraud prevention, and consumer protection

The library also provides patrons with access to a very powerful research database, Weiss Financial Ratings Series, that can help them boost their consumer IQ.

That database can be used to explore insurance companies, Medigap Plans, Banks, Credit Unions, Mutual Funds, Stocks, and helpful financial literacy tools. It is designed to direct consumers toward safe investment and insurance options while also helping them avoid unnecessary risks that could lead to financial losses. 

You can view the Weiss Financial Ratings Series on the internet at any BPL location or remotely through the BPL's database page

To access it remotely, select Weiss Financial Ratings Guide from the dropdown menu labeled "Database Quick Links." Remoted users will need to have a valid JCLC library card and a City of Birmingham resident. 

For more information about the Weiss Financial Ratings Guide, and other BPL resources related to consumer protection and education, please contact the Central Library's Business, Science and Technology Department by: 

  • emailing cenbusiness@cobpl.org
  • calling 205-226-3640

By Jim Murray | Librarian Ⅱ, BST Department