The Federal Trade Commission today told Congress that it is working with federal, state and local law enforcers, business groups, and consumers to prevent identity theft, provide victim assistance, and prosecute perpetrators. Speaking before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, Howard Beales, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the Committee that in November 1999 the Commission set up a toll-free hotline where identity theft victims can obtain counseling and consumers can learn how to minimize their risk of becoming victims. Beales noted that in 2001, more than 117,000 complaints from identity theft victims were added to the FTC's database, the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse. In 2002, those complaints increased by almost 162,000. Beales said the dramatic increase may reflect a growing awareness of consumers about identity theft.
Beales said consumers who call the FTC hotline "receive telephone counseling from specially trained personnel who provide general information about identity theft and help guide victims through the steps needed to resolve the problems resulting from the misuse of their identities." Consumer are advised to contact the three national consumer reporting agencies and have a fraud alert placed in their file; close accounts identity thieves have accessed and dispute unauthorized charges; and report the theft to the police and get a police report. Advice is also available through the FTC's identity theft Web site at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, he said.
The FTC also has worked to provide consumers with information through its consumer education and outreach efforts. Other government agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation have printed and distributed copies of the FTC's comprehensive identity theft publication, "When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name," which is available in both English and Spanish, the testimony says. "To increase identity theft awareness for the average consumer,
the FTC recently developed a new primer on identity theft, 'ID Theft: What's It All About?' This publication discusses the common methods of identity thieves, how consumers can best minimize their risk of being victimized, how to identity the signs of victimization, and the basic first steps for victims," Beales said.
"Because law enforcement at the state and local level can provide significant practical assistance to victims, the FTC places a premium on outreach to such agencies," Beales said. He pointed to an initiative taken in conjunction with North Carolina's Attorney General, Roy Cooper, to notify each state's attorney general to alert them to how they could use the FTC resources to better assist their residents. "Through this initiative, the FTC hopes to make the most efficient use of federal resources by allowing states to take advantage of the work the FTC has already accomplished and at the same time continuing to expand the centralized database of victim complaints and increase its use by law enforcement nationwide," the testimony says.
Beales pointed to initiatives with industry and consumer advocates to reduce the burden on identity theft victims trying to clear their credit identities. One initiative has created a single, standard reporting form for use with all creditors. Another initiative, taken by the major credit reporting agencies, means that consumers who place a fraud alert on his or her consumer report will not have to duplicate that effort with the other agencies, because the agencies will share the data with one another. He said that as the result of an FTC roundtable with representatives from financial institutions, credit issuers, universities, and retailers on how to prevent unauthorized access to personal information, "The FTC will soon publish a self-assessment guide to make businesses and organizations of all sizes more aware of how they manage personal information and to aid them in assessing their security protocols."
"Identity theft and large scale security breaches place substantial costs on individuals and businesses," the testimony says. "The Commission, through its education and enforcement capabilities, is committed to reducing these breaches as much as possible. The Commission will continue its efforts to assist criminal law enforcement with their investigations. Prosecuting perpetrators sends the message that identity theft is not cost-free. Finally, the Commission knows that as with any crime, identity theft can never be completely eradicated. Thus, the Commission's program to assist victims and work with the private sector on ways to facilitate the process for regaining victims' good names will always remain a priority."
Copies of the testimony 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.
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
Bureau of Consumer Protection
(FC File No.P034302)