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Consumers Worry About ID Theft But Still Take Risks

Consumers may worry about identity theft but they often take huge risks while shopping online, Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said on Tuesday.

"Complaints received by our office suggest that consumers are becoming more careful about bidding for merchandise in online auctions, but risk is still there," McKenna said in a prepared statement. "The Internet is ripe for fraud and some consumers are blindly shopping on sites they are not familiar with. Shoppers should only visit reputable sites in order to ensure trouble-free transactions and reduce the likelihood of becoming victims of identity theft."

McKenna's office, which categorizes and tallies consumer complaints annually, said that it received almost half as many complaints about online auctions in 2006 compared with the previous year. Last year, Washington state consumers reported 319 complaints about online auctions, compared with 774 in 2005.

At the same time, complaints about electronic shopping rose from 532 in 2005 to 819 in 2006. McKenna's Consumer Protection Division staff said the trends appear to indicate that more people are shopping online, while online auction activity is leveling off. However, online auction fraud topped the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center list of calls from Washington. McKenna's staff members said they would need more time to determine what is driving the change.

In all, Washington consumers lodged 18,354 complaints in 2006, according to McKenna's consumer protection staff, which held more than 195 presentations for 13,375 people last year. More people requested information on identity theft than any other topic, according to the attorney general's office, which is among countless U.S. law enforcement groups dealing with the problem.