The FTC has just issued its annual report, the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, aggregating data on the 2.68 million consumer complaints that it received in 2017. This number is down from a peak in consumer complaints during 2015 – 3.04 million complaints – and last year’s total of 2.98 million.

According to the FTC’s report, the top ten categories are as follows:

Debt Collection


Identity Theft


Imposter Scams


Telephone/Mobile Services


Banks and Lenders


Prizes, Sweepstakes


Shop-at-Home/Catalog Sales


Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers, Report Users




Television/Electronic Media


The Consumer Sentinel Network is an online database of consumer complaints maintained by the FTC. Other federal and state law enforcement agencies contribute to the database, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the offices of 20 state attorneys general, including Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin. Private-sector organizations contributing data include all North American local offices of the Better Business Bureau.

Any federal, state, or local law enforcement agency can obtain access to the database by entering into a confidentiality and data security agreement with the FTC. Certain international law enforcement authorities are also allowed access.

A few points regarding the data in the report bear mentioning. First, “unverified reports filed by consumers,” regardless of merit and whether the complaint was remedied by the company, were counted as complaints. Second, even though debt collection topped the report in terms of the percentage of complaints received, the total number of debt collection complaints represents a very small portion (0.005%) of consumers who had contact with the debt collection industry during 2017. Finally, while the FTC uses the term “complaint” in its press release and makes numerous references to “complaints” in the new annual report, the report states that it refers to “consumer reports” rather than “complaints,” given that “[o]ften, people make these reports after they have experienced something problematic in the marketplace, avoided a loss, and decided to alert others.”

Nevertheless, the FTC and state attorneys general have long used consumer complaints to identify victims and potential targets for investigations. Importantly, Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s appointee as CFPB Acting Director, has indicated that the CFPB will continue to use complaints in setting its priorities.