Government and Citizens

Consumer Protection

State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia

Consumer Protection

Like most Americans, Virginians are facing growing threats from fraudulent, deceptive, and illegal practices.

Why is This Important?

Consumer fraud and identity theft are growing problems across America. However, it is difficult to compare consumer protection statistics across states, as there is great variation in relevant state laws, definitions, standards of evidence, and record keeping. The Consumer Sentinel, a database set up by the Federal Trade Commission, provides a limited view of consumer protection issues and trends, with a strong focus on fraud perpetrated via the Internet and telemarketing. In 2012 alone, the Consumer Sentinel received over 2 million consumer fraud, identity theft, and related complaints (yet another increase over the previous year), with victims reporting losses of $1.5 billion.

The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) tracks disciplinary actions taken against doctors -- revocations, surrenders, and probations / restrictions for medical licenses. During 2011, state medical boards took a total of 6,034 disciplinary actions against doctors nationwide, an increase of 382 actions from 2010.

How is Virginia Doing?

Consumer Fraud

Rate of Consumer Fraud Complaints. See text for explanation.According to complaints made to the Consumer Sentinel in 2012, Virginia had the 7th highest rate of consumer fraud and other related problems: 517.4 per 100,000 population, and above the national average of 464.1. Virginians reported a total of 42,355 fraud and other cases in 2012, which ranked the Commonwealth 44th out of 50 states.

The top fraud categories, regardless of location, were:

  • Identity theft
  • Third party and creditor debt collection
  • Banks and lenders
  • Shop-at-home / catalog sales
  • Prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries
  • Impostor scams
  • Internet services

Among peer states, North Carolina (422.6) and Tennessee (435.1) had lower consumer fraud rates than Virginia, while Maryland (564.2) was higher. Nationally, the lowest rate of fraud and other complaints in 2012 occurred in South Dakota, with 291.2 complaints per 100,000 population.

Identity Theft

Rate of Identity Theft Complaints. See text for explanation.Virginia had the nation’s 24th highest identity theft rate in 2012 at 80.8 per 100,000 population. The national average for identity theft was 112.6 in 2012. Tennessee's rate was 88.1 per 100,000 population, Maryland's was 105.0, and North Carolina's was 81.1. South Dakota had the lowest rate at 39.6.

In 2012, 6,616 Virginians reported some form of identity theft. The top types of identity theft include:

  • Government documents or benefits fraud
  • Credit card fraud
  • Phone or utilities fraud
  • Bank fraud
  • Employment-related fraud
  • Loan fraud

Physician Disciplinary Actions

Rate of Physician Disciplinary Actions, by State. See text for explanation.Data on the number of serious disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards against physicians shows that Virginia's rate in 2011 -- 3.11 per 1,000 doctors -- was 22nd highest in the nation. The national rate was 3.06 per 1,000 physicians. Among peer states, North Carolina was higher (3.56),while Tennessee (2.72) and Maryland (2.91) were lower. South Carolina had the lowest rate of disciplinary actions at 1.33.

What Influences Consumer Protection?

Education, timely information, legislation, and effective administrative regulations and law enforcement all work together to reduce consumer fraud and identity theft and protect consumers of health care and other services.

What is the State's Role?

The state fights consumer violations in several ways by:

  • educating residents to recognize scams and establish personal security protections
  • enacting appropriate legislation
  • enforcing regulations, and
  • investigating and prosecuting offenders.

Within Virginia, responsibilities for protecting consumers are largely organized as follows:

  • The Attorney General's Office enforces state and federal consumer laws, handles general consumer complaints, and prosecutes offenders.
  • The Virginia Department of Agriculture's Office of Charitable and Regulatory Programs regulates charitable gaming and certain other industries not covered elsewhere.
  • The Department of Health Professions issues licenses and regulates health care practitioners.
  • The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation regulates more than 30 occupations and professions.
  • The Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy enforce worker safety laws and regulations.
Page last modified April 23, 2013
Rate of Consumer Fraud in 2008, by State. Rate of Identity Theft by State. Rate of Physician Disciplinary Actions by State.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Sentinel, "Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book” (2008-2012) and “Fraud and Identity Theft Complaint Data" (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007). (updated annually in February)

Note: In 2008, the Federal Trade Commission expanded the types of consumer complaints that it tracks to include complaints filed about debt collection, credit issues, and financial matters. In addition, state level reporting included a new category “fraud and other complaints” which consists of complaints about consumer fraud, complaints about financial products, and other complaints alleging misleading and deceptive practices, fake merchandise, and defective products. For these reasons, consumer fraud complaints reported in previous years are not directly comparable to those reported as “consumer fraud and other” here.

Federation of State Medical Boards. Summary of Board Actions.

Public Citizen. Ranking of State Medical Boards’ Serious Disciplinary Actions: (2008-2011, 2007-2009, 2006-2008, 2005-2007, 2004-2006, 2003-2005, 2002-2004)

Public Citizen computes the rate of serious disciplinary actions per 1,000 doctors using three year moving averages of state disciplinary rates to smooth out large fluctuations that can be caused by relatively small increases in the number of actions for small states. Information on the number of disciplinary actions is obtained from the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), and data on total medical doctors is obtained from the American Medical Association.

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Consumer Protection in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is worsening.
State Influence:

National Ranking: Virginia saw minor improvements with consumer protection issues in 2012. But the state still has the 7th highest rate of consumer fraud in the country (rank 44th) and the 24th highest identity theft rate (ranking 27th) for 2012. The Commonwealth also had the 22nd highest rate of disciplinary actions taken against physicians for 2011.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

The Virginia Office of Consumer Services no longer handles most general consumer complaints. These functions have been transferred to the Office of the Attorney General. The Attorney General also enforces state and federal consumer protection laws and issues consumer alerts and educational materials designed to increase consumer awareness.

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) handles complaints regarding insurance companies, financial institutions, securities and retail franchising, utilities, and telephone companies.

The Department of Health Professions offers a doctor lookup feature that provides background information on licensed doctors (of medicine, osteopathy and podiatry) in Virginia, including any paid or pending claims and investigations.

Virginia's Motor Vehicle Dealer Board handles complaints involving automobile dealers.

The Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) enforces standards of professional conduct by investigating reports against licensees, and by ensuring regulated professions are in compliance with state law and regulations. See their Consumer Resources page for more info.

Additional Information

The Federal Trade Commission has a wide-ranging campaign -- called "Deter, Detect, Defend" -- to provide Americans with identity theft education and complaint filing services. They also investigate consumer complaints, which users can file online.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau logo

Established largely in response to the mortgage and securities crises of recent years, the new federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's stated goal is to make markets for certain financial products and services -- mortgages, credit cards, etc. -- oriented toward, and responsive to, the American consumer.

The Better Business Bureau maintains a national database of consumer complaints against businesses that users can research before working with a company; the BBB also allows for online complaint filing and actively works to mediate consumer problems with businesses large and small.

For-profit identity theft protection services have mushroomed in recent years. Most offer a range of fraud monitoring and identity recovery services for a monthly fee -- but consumers would be wise to first consult an unbiased source, such as the Consumer Federation of America or Consumer Reports, before contracting for ID theft services.