Identity Theft and Data Security

Identity theft tops the list of consumer complaints that are reported to the FTC and other enforcement agencies every year. The most recent figures from the Bureau of Justice statistics indicate that 11.7 million people, representing 5 percent of all people in the U.S. age 16 and older, were victims of identity theft between 2006 and 2008. Identity theft can be perpetrated using such low-tech methods as purse snatching or “dumpster diving,” or high-tech techniques like deceptive “phishing” e-mails or malicious software known as “spyware.” Identity theft is a crime. While the FTC does not have criminal jurisdiction, it supports the criminal investigation and prosecution through its Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, which is the nation's repository for identity theft complaints and a part of the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel complaint database. In addition to housing over a million ID theft complaints, Sentinel offers its more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies a variety of tools to facilitate the investigations and prosecution of identity theft. These include information to help agencies coordinate effective joint action; sample indictments; tools to refresh investigative data through programmed data searches; and access to “hot address” data bases.