WASHINGTON – Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and Federal Trade Commission Chairman William E. Kovacic announced today the release of a report from the President’s Identity Theft Task Force on progress the federal government has made in addressing identity theft since the Task Force’s Strategic Plan was released last year.
Highlights of the report include expansion of the Task Force’s data security and identity theft business and consumer education campaigns; exploring means of improving consumer authentication processes to prevent the use of stolen information to commit identity theft; launching new initiatives to help identity theft victims recover; and improving law enforcement tools to investigate and prosecute identity thieves.
The Strategic Plan, issued in April 2007, outlined 31 recommendations the federal government should undertake to help prevent the theft and misuse of consumers’ personal information, help consumers detect and recover from identity theft, and increase the prosecution and punishment of identity thieves. Following the release of the Strategic Plan, Task Force members worked with others in the public, private, and non-profit sectors to implement the recommendations. Some of the steps detailed in today’s report taken by task force agencies include the following:
Preventing Identity Theft
- Federal agencies have worked to eliminate unnecessary uses of Social Security numbers (SSNs) in their programs. For example, the Social Security Administration has removed SSNs almost entirely from its internal human resources forms. The Department of Defense has issued a plan to reduce its internal use of SSNs, including their removal from military ID cards. The Internal Revenue Service has been redacting taxpayer SSNs to the last four digits on all federal tax lien documents filed in public records and issued to taxpayers and their representatives.
- In 2007, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Homeland Security alerted all federal Chief Information Officers to ten common data security risks and noted the best ways to address them. In addition, the FTC has conducted, and is continuing to conduct, extensive outreach to other federal agencies to share best practices and offer guidance on privacy, data security, and incident response.
- Task Force agencies have conducted policymaking, outreach, and enforcement initiatives to encourage similar efforts in the private sector and to educate consumers about identity theft. For example, in February 2008, the U.S. Postal Service mailed identity theft protection information to 146 million individuals and businesses.
- The FTC held two public workshops that explored both ways to reduce the unnecessary uses of Social Security numbers in the private sectors and possible measures to improve consumer authentication processes and thus prevent criminals from using stolen personal information to access existing accounts or open new ones.
Assisting Consumers to Detect and Recover From Identity Theft
- On September 26, 2008 President Bush signed into law a bill that filled the gaps in previous identity theft laws by ensuring that victims can recover the value of the time lost attempting to repair damage inflicted by identity theft, criminalizing additional acts of identity thieves, and expanding the definition of aggravated identity theft.
- Task Force agencies have conducted training sessions for victim assistance counselors to ensure that they have the necessary tools to assist identity theft victims.
- The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance has provided substantial grants to victim assistance organizations. These organizations provide direct services to victims, and also serve as models for other groups.
- The Department of Justice and FTC have coordinated with the American Bar Association on programs to provide free legal assistance for victims.
Investigating, Prosecuting, and Punishing Identity Thieves
- Law enforcement agencies have successfully prosecuted a number of cases, including some involving the illegal sale of Social Security numbers, identity theft related to the health care system, and identity theft committed in the context of immigration crimes.
- The Department of Justice, FTC, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, FBI, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators have provided training seminars for more than 900 law enforcement officers from more than 250 government agencies.
- The Department of Justice has partnered with foreign law enforcement agencies to enhance investigation and information sharing.
The Task Force report emphasizes that, due to the dynamic and rapidly changing nature of identity theft, the struggle to protect consumers’ personal information will not end with the implementation of the recommendations from the Strategic Plan. Government and the private sector, working together with consumers, must remain vigilant and adaptable as new generations of identity thieves and techniques develop over the coming years. The full task force report and other information on federal efforts to combat identity theft may be found at http://www.idtheft.gov.
The Identity Theft Task Force, co-chaired by the Attorney General and the FTC Chairman, was established by Executive Order of the President on May 10, 2006, and is now comprised of 17 federal agencies and departments.
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