Request for Comments "Identity Theft Conference, Project No. P175400"
I attended the FTC conference on identity theft in May. Although there was much discussion about how identity theft happens, what the effects are, and what people can do to repair the damage after it happens, there was very little about what people can do to prevent themselves from becoming identity theft victims. Maybe that's because there's only a limited amount a person can do today. You can try to keep your personal information private, but the information is "out there" anyway due to data breaches and unwise sharing of personal information via social media. You can activate credit monitoring with the credit bureaus or with "identity theft prevention" services. But that doesn't prevent identity theft; it only alerts you after the fact. You can put a fraud alert on your credit file, but there's no guarantee a potential creditor will contact you for confirmation. You can put a freeze on your credit files, but as several participants in the conference noted, a credit freeze is often cumbersome to use, it can be costly, and it doesn't necessarily prevent all kinds of identity theft and impersonation. I think it would be a good thing if the FTC could take a more active role in developing and promoting ways in which identity theft and online impersonation can be prevented. How can the FTC do this? One possibility might be for the FTC to sponsor an "Identity Theft Challenge", open to the public, that solicits ideas and potential solutions to various identity theft scenarios that would be articulated by the FTC. For instance, the FTC might solicit ideas or solutions for preventing impersonation even if someone's Social Security Number is stolen and used to attempt opening a new credit account. Or if stolen credit card information is used to attempt making online, "card not present" purchases. Or to improve and streamline a credit freeze. However, the FTC shouldn't just tuck those ideas and potential solutions into its back pocket for future reference. The Identity Theft Challenge could perhaps offer some sort of prize or recognition for the most creative solutions. Could the FTC take on an even more activist role in promoting and publicizing the best submissions, with the goal of spurring the online community towards implementing those solutions, or at least sparking wider discussion about the merits of those (or other) ideas for preventing identity theft?