FTC Calls for Stiffer Penalties for Identity Thieves

Senate Bill Would Increase Penalties for Thieves Who Use Stolen Identities to Commit Crimes

The Federal Trade Commission today testified that it supports a Senate bill to increase penalties for identity thieves who use stolen identities to commit certain federal crimes. J. Howard Beales III, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection told the Technology, Terrorism and Government Information Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, S. 2541, would make identity theft cases easier to investigate and prosecute successfully.

The bill would provide for additional prison sentences for thieves who use stolen identities while committing certain acts in furtherance of terrorism, as well as pension fraud, bank fraud, social security fraud, financial pretexting, impersonating a U.S. citizen, or making a false statement to obtain a firearms license. The bill, sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), also would prohibit probation and concurrent sentencing for those committing "aggravated identity theft."

According to the testimony, The FTC's identity theft program has three main components: the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, which now contains more than 170,000 victim complaints; consumer education and assistance resources, including a toll-free hotline; and collaborative efforts with criminal law enforcement and private industry.

The testimony notes that the Clearinghouse is essentially a tool for criminal investigators and prosecutors. They include the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the United States Secret Service, the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General, the Department of Justice, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, among other agencies, who consistently communicate the availability and advantages of the Clearinghouse to their colleagues.

Since the inception of the Clearinghouse, 46 separate federal agencies and 306 different state and local agencies have signed up for access to the database, the testimony states. Noting that the FTC wants to encourage even greater participation in the database, the testimony says the agency has been conducting outreach and law enforcement training to show how the Clearinghouse data can be used to enhance criminal law enforcement.

The testimony details that since March, in conjunction with these agencies, the FTC has been holding training seminars around the country for federal, state, and local law enforcers. The training is designed to provide officers with technical skills and resources to combat identity theft. To date, 440 law enforcers from 100 different government departments have attended the seminars. Following a training session in Chicago last May, approximately one-third of the participating agencies without prior access to the database signed up, and the FTC continues to receive applications.

The testimony also details the coordination among law enforcement agencies in the effort to stem identity theft. The Secret Service has made a strong commitment to making reports developed from Clearinghouse data available nationwide, the testimony says. A Secret Service special agent detailed to the FTC works with lawyers and investigators to develop investigative reports. These reports are then combined with information from Secret Service intelligence databases and referred to the Financial Crimes Task Forces and other appropriate law enforcement entities across the country.

The testimony says the FTC will continue to do its part to support the prevention, investigation, prosecution, and mitigation of identity theft by providing law enforcement with education, training, access to the Clearinghouse, consumer education material, and case referrals.

The Commission vote to approve the testimony was 5-0.

Copies of the testimony and a consumer publication, "When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name," are available from the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also from the FTC's Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

(FTC File No. P014305)

Contact Information

Media Contact:
Claudia Bourne Farrell,
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2181
Staff Contact:
Betsy Broder,
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-2968