Calls answered by the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft hotline have tripled in the last six months according to FTC testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information. Jeffrey Klurfeld, Director of the Western Regional Office of the FTC, told a field hearing of the subcommittee in Los Angeles that the FTC hotline received an average of more than 1,000 calls a week in July. He said the Commission will convene a workshop for industry, consumer groups, the public and law enforcement on identity theft victim assistance on October 23 and 24, 2000.
In November 1999, the FTC established the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse to provide a central repository of consumer complaints about identity theft, and to refer appropriate cases to law enforcement for prosecution, according to the testimony. The Clearinghouse contains data from consumers who contact the FTC through its toll free number - 877-IDTHEFT - or its Web site at www.ftc.gov/idtheft . "With a database as rich as the Clearinghouse should become, Commission staff can and do refer cases for potential prosecution," the testimony says. "Law enforcement and appropriate regulatory offices can access the Clearinghouse through their desktop personal computers. This access enables them to readily spot identity theft problems in their own backyards, and to coordinate with other law enforcement officers where the database reveals common schemes or perpetrators."
The testimony notes that the most common forms of identity theft reported by California consumers during the first nine months operation of the FTC database were:
- Credit Card Fraud - Approximately 50 percent of consumers reported credit card fraud;
- Communications Services - Approximately 28 percent reported that the identity thief opened up telephone, cellular or other utility service in their name;
- Bank Fraud - Approximately 17 percent reported that a checking or saving account had been opened or accessed;
- Fraudulent Loans - Approximately 10 percent reported that the identity thief obtained a loan, such as a car loan, in their name;
- Government Documents or Benefits - Approximately 8 percent of consumers reported that an identity thief had obtained or forged government documents or benefits - such as drivers licenses - in their name.
The testimony says that statistics for the country as a whole are not dissimilar: 54 percent Credit Card Fraud; 26 percent Communications Services; 17 percent Bank Fraud; 11 percent Fraudulent Loans; and 8 percent Government Documents or Benefits.
"The data also reveal information about the perpetrators. Almost 60 percent of the caller complainants provided some identifying information about the identity thief, such as a name, address or phone number."
In addition to losing money, consumers report harm to their reputation and daily life because of damage to their credit report. "This negative credit information leads to the other problems most commonly reported by victims, including loan denials, bounced checks and rejection of credit cards." Forty-nine percent of California consumers reported that they were harmed in this manner, the testimony says.
"Consumers also report problems with the institutions that provided the credit, goods or services to the identity thief in the consumer's name. These institutions often attempt to collect the bad debt from the victim, or report the bad debt to a consumer reporting agency, even after the victim believes that he or she has established the fraud. Consumers further complain that these institutions' inadequate or lax security procedures failed to prevent the identity theft in the first place; customer service or fraud departments were not responsive; or the companies refused to close or correct the unauthorized accounts after notification by the consumer," the testimony says.
The testimony notes that, "The FTC's ID Theft Web Site, www.ftc.gov/idtheft gives tips on how consumers can guard against identity theft, warns consumers about the latest identity theft schemes and trends, and provides access to consumer education materials on identity theft. This Web site has received more than 139,000 hits since November 1999. . . The FTC has distributed 100,000 copies of a comprehensive consumer guide, "ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen to Your Good Name." Developed in consultation with more than a dozen federal
agencies, this booklet provides consumers with practical tips on how best to protect their personal information from identity thieves, summarizes the various federal statutes that protect consumer victims of identity theft, and details the victim assistance mechanisms available.
"The Commission has made great strides in assisting consumers and law enforcement to combat identity theft, but recognizes that much remains to be done," the testimony says. It says the Commission supports a Senate Bill, the Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2000, which ". . . [will] enable consumers to better protect themselves against identity theft, and avoid some of the frustrations that often accompany their efforts to undo the harm inflicted by the identity thief."
The Commission vote to issue the testimony was 5-0.
Copies of the testimony and the 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; toll free at 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TDD for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
Claudia Bourne Farrell
Office of Public Affairs
Hugh G. Stevenson or Joanna Crane
Bureau of Consumer Protection
202-326-5311 or 202-326-3258