The Federal Trade Commission today described its comprehensive efforts to combat identity theft before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census, and National Archives of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The FTC also recommended legislative remedies to enhance the effectiveness of these efforts.
The testimony presented by Betsy Broder, Assistant Director of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, highlighted the agency’s leadership role in developing a national strategy to combat identity theft as part of the President’s Identity Theft Task Force. The Task Force issued 31 recommendations that promoted an enhanced data security culture in the public and private sectors, launched victim assistance initiatives, and improved law enforcement’s ability to pursue and punish identity thieves.
The FTC’s testimony recommended that, to help prevent identity theft, Congress should establish data security standards across the private sector requiring all organizations that hold sensitive consumer data to take reasonable measures to safeguard it, and to notify consumers when the security of their information has been breached. In addition, the Commission has asked Congress for authority to seek civil penalties in data security cases and for legislation that would help reduce the unnecessary use and display of Social Security numbers.
The FTC testimony described the agency’s efforts to keep sensitive information out of the hands of identity thieves by working to ensure that those who maintain such information adequately protect it. Since 2001, the FTC has brought 26 law enforcement actions against businesses that failed to implement reasonable security measures to protect sensitive consumer data. The Commission believes that these aggressive law enforcement efforts have helped sensitize businesses to the importance of data security and motivated them to devote more attention and resources to protecting consumers’ data. In addition, the agency shares consumer complaints with more than 1,700 law enforcement agencies through the Consumer Sentinel Network to facilitate criminal prosecution of identity thieves. The testimony also discussed the Commission’s direct assistance to ID theft victims, such as online resources at www.ftc.gov/idtheft and a toll-free hotline for victims, 1-877-IDTHEFT, which assisted more than 300,000 victims in 2008 alone. The testimony outlined how these resources guide victims to limit the damage and restore their identities.
According to the FTC testimony, the agency’s efforts to educate consumers also include disseminating English- and Spanish-language materials directly to consumers; working with organizations to help inform their members, constituencies, and employees; and creating a
multimedia Web site, OnGuard Online, with tips on safe online computing. For businesses – especially small businesses – the Commission has created a brochure and online tutorial on information security and hosted regional data security workshops.
The Commission also has worked to implement the identity theft provisions of the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACT Act). For example, the FACT Act gave consumers the right to receive free annual credit reports so that they can spot signs of identity theft. The FTC has enforced this right by bringing two actions against companies offering so-called “free” credit reports that were tied to the purchase of a credit monitoring service.
The Commission vote authorizing presentation of the testimony was 4-0.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.