In testimony before Congress today, the Federal Trade Commission detailed the agency’s ongoing education and outreach efforts to combat identity theft, including tax identity theft and Internal Revenue Service imposter scams.
“Millions of consumers are victimized by identity thieves each year, collectively costing consumers and businesses billions of dollars and countless hours to repair the damage,” the written testimony states. According to the testimony, in 2012, the Bureau of Justice statistics estimated that 16.6 million consumers were victims of identity theft.
Testifying on behalf of the Commission before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, FTC Commissioner Julie Brill told lawmakers that the FTC has taken action and obtained settlements in more than 50 cases against businesses charged with failing to provide reasonable protections for consumer data, or misrepresenting the protections they provide. The agency also reaches out to businesses by distributing business guides for data security and developing data security guidance for specific industries.
The FTC manages the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, a secure online database of identity theft-related complaints that is available to over 2,000 American and Canadian federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The written testimony outlines how the FTC uses these complaints to help target the Commission’s education efforts to empower consumers by providing them with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from identity theft, and to deal with the consequences when it does occur. These materials are available in both English and Spanish, and are included in the FTC’s Pass It On program aimed at active adults 65 and over.
The testimony also describes how the FTC is developing and implementing a plan to make identity theft recovery easier and quicker for consumers, in response to the President’s Oct. 17, 2014 Executive Order on Improving the Security of Consumer Financial Transactions.
The testimony outlines the specific challenges posed by the fast-growing problem of tax identity theft, one that affects older Americans and people with disabilities in particular. The Commission noted among its outreach efforts, it has hosted Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week for the past two years to raise awareness about this issue.
In addition, the testimony identifies government imposter scams, especially IRS imposter scams as another growing fraud. Government imposter scams have increased dramatically in the past few years. The FTC received over 52,000 IRS imposter scam complaints in 2014 and received almost 22,000 in the first three months of 2015.
The Commission vote approving the testimony and its inclusion in the formal record was 5-0.
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). Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.
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