The Federal Trade Commission continues to be vigilant in protecting consumers from identity theft, according to FTC testimony delivered today. Speaking before the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, FTC Assistant Director for Planning and Information Betsy Broder discussed the FTC’s ongoing efforts to combat identity theft and assist criminal law enforcement’s efforts to prosecute offenders. The testimony also outlined several new protections for identity theft victims provided by recent amendments to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
The testimony outlined the FTC’s role in combating identity theft, as directed by the Identity Theft Act and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. Currently, the FTC’s program focuses on: 1) collecting complaints and providing victim assistance through a Web site and phone hotline; 2) maintaining and promoting the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, a centralized victim complaint database that assists law enforcement officials with investigations; and
3) consumer and business education and outreach.
Broder discussed a recent survey that the FTC commissioned to understand more clearly how often identity theft occurs and the impact of the crime on consumers. The researchers determined that identity theft is a growing crime, with a significant increase in cases reported during the past three years. “Identity theft is more widespread and pernicious than previously realized,” Broder said. The survey can be found at www.consumer.gov/idtheft/stats.
The testimony stated that both consumers and businesses can suffer tremendous losses due to information security breaches. The FTC recently developed a kit, which will be posted shortly at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, that provides advice for businesses on what to do if a security breach occurs. The tips include law enforcement contact information, business contact information for the three major credit reporting agencies, suggestions for establishing an internal communication protocol, information on contacting the FTC for assistance, and a detailed explanation of what individuals need to know. “The FTC particularly stresses the importance of notifying individuals as soon as possible when information has been taken that may put them at risk for identity theft,” Broder said.
The testimony also discussed other FTC initiatives in combating identity theft, including the creation of a standard “ID Theft Affidavit” victims can complete to dispute identity theft-related debts, as well as a “joint fraud alert” that the three major credit reporting agencies administer. The joint fraud alert eliminates the need for victims to contact each of the agencies separately. The FTC also maintains a comprehensive identity theft Web site, located at www.consumer.gov/idtheft, which includes valuable publications for consumers, law enforcement, and businesses, links to testimony, reports, press releases, state laws, and other resources.
The testimony also outlined several new protections for identity theft victims provided by the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003. The Act amends the FCRA and provides important new measures to combat identity theft. The Act gives consumers annual access to a free credit report on request, which will help consumers monitor their financial information, discover and correct errors, and provide an early alert to identity theft victims. The Act also enables consumers to place an alert on their credit files, and requires credit reporting agencies to block potentially fraudulent information on consumer credit reports as soon as the consumer submits a police report. Finally, the Act requires merchants to truncate account numbers on credit or debit card receipts to prevent identity thieves from accessing account information from discarded or stolen receipts.
“As with any crime, identity theft can never be completely eradicated,” Broder said. “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.