12 ON YOUR SIDE: Top complaints to the federal government

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - The list is out, and it's a big one - more than two million consumer complaints were lodged with the federal government last year. That's almost 5,500 every day.

For the 13th year in a row, identity theft tops the list. It accounts for about one in every five complaints. That's followed by debt collection, complaints regarding banks, and lenders, shop-at-home, and catalog sales.

Rounding out the top five are prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries.

To avoid becoming a victim of scams, which often involve fraud, listen to the familiar warning - never answer emails, calls, or text messages asking for personal or financial information.

Many come disguised as an account alert. But, if you're really worried, contact your credit or debit card company yourself.

Check out the company before you do business with them. A quick online search, for the company name, along with a search term "scam," "complaint," or "fraud," can save you trouble later on.

More than 43 percent of identity theft complaints were related to tax or wage fraud.

When it comes to ID theft, remember scammers are not above digging through dumpsters for personal information. So, shred sensitive documents, especially now, during tax season.

The FTC says this type of ID theft typically occurs when the scammer steals your social security number, and applies for a tax refund in your name.

"They invent a W-2 form, from a company that you've never worked for, and then they get the filing in as early as possible," said Adam Levin, co-founder of identitytheft911.com. "A lot of tax information is sitting on your computer, and then they get hacked."

People who e-file aren't immune. Experts say there's a lot of tax information on your computer that can get hacked. The best advice is to file early, and check the status of your return right away.

Make sure the information on your computer is on an encrypted drive.

And, don't use your smart phone, without all of the same security protections, as your computer.

The FTC website offers a wealth of information about protecting yourself from fraud, as well as the list of the top complaints.

Copyright 2013 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.