U.S. govt. plan to combat ID theft being unveiled today


The U.S. federal government will release, on Monday, its plan to combat identity theft in that country. After nearly a year’s work, the President’s Identity Theft Task Force will release its findings at a press event in the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) offices, the FTC said in a media alert.

The task force was created by presidential order last May, just before the public disclosure of a data leak at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which put the personal information of 26.5 million veterans at risk. The task force is co-chaired by FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

In September, the group issued its interim findings, recommending that U.S. law be changed so that victims of ID theft would be compensated for the time it takes to set their credit records straight.

While consumers may not be found liable for any charges accrued as the result of identity theft, often they must spend long hours contacting creditors and credit rating agencies to set the record straight after a fraud has occurred.

The task force also recommended that the U.S. adopt a nationwide police reporting system so that victims could more easily notify authorities of crimes, fill out reports online. It suggested a change in U.S. law that would require those convicted of such crimes to pay victims for the time used to clear up identity problems.

It urged U.S. agencies to examine whether their use of Social Security numbers is necessary and called on an interagency working group on ID theft to develop best practices for data security in government.

The U.S. government needs to lead by example in protecting consumers from ID theft, Deborah Platt Majoras, chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said.

Other recommendations included steps to reduce the government’s exposure to data breaches and to improve its response when these crimes occur.

Though it was not mentioned in the interim report, the task force should also recommend that companies be more careful when screening credit applicants, said Beth Givens, the director of Privacy Rights Clearing House, a consumer advocacy group. “If the credit issuers and wireless phone companies spent a little bit more time looking for such anomalies, identity theft would be significantly reduced,” she said.

According to Javelin Strategy, there were 8.9 million victims of identity theft in the U.S. in 2006. That’s fewer than the 10.1 million that the research firm counted in 2003, but it still accounts for about 4 percent of the adult population.

Around four percent of U.S. residents are ID theft victims every year.

President George Bush established the task force because of “the prevalence of this crime, combined with the lingering burdens and effects on victims,” Gonzales said.

“When we look at the problem of identity theft, we are reminded that the same technological advances that have improved our lives have also given new and broad opportunities to criminals, including identity thieves.”

The Attorney General noted that as with any crime, victims suffer feelings of violation and stress, “but in these cases, victims have the added burden of essentially cleaning up the mess that the identity thieves leave behind.”

Other recommendations of the Task Force include:

• The U.S. Office of Personnel Management should speed up its review of the use of Social Security numbers by federal agencies;

• U.S. agencies should work with experts to find other ways of authenticating people’s identities, such as biometrics;

• U.S. agencies should develop better plans to disclose data breaches to potential victims. In May, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had a laptop and hard drive stolen from an analyst’s home, and the agency took about two weeks to report the theft to the public.

Majoras and Gonzales didn’t talk about the VA case, but members of Congress have called for the VA to do a better job of notifying potential victims.

With files form Grant Gross, IDNGS


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