Intensified efforts to combat identity theft

Published 19 December 2007

Identity theft is one of the highest priorities for the U.S. Federal Trade Commission; agency is playing a lead role in preventing identity theft and helping those who are victimized

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) told the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security that identity theft remains one of the highest priorities for the commission, and that the agency is playing a lead role in preventing identity theft and helping those who are victimized. Testifying for the commission, Joel Winston, associate director of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, described the agency’s efforts to combat identity theft, including law enforcement, business and consumer education, and participation in the president’s Identity Theft Task Force. With respect to law enforcement, the commission has brought fourteen cases since 2001 against businesses that failed to implement reasonable security measures to protect sensitive consumer data. In each case, according to Winston, the alleged security vulnerabilities were multiple and systemic, and in most cases, readily available and inexpensive measures were available to prevent them.

The commission also has played a lead role in the president’s Identity Theft Task Force, which is co-chaired by FTC chairman Deborah Platt Majoras. The commission and the sixteen other Task Force agencies issued a Strategic Plan earlier this year, with thirty-one recommended initiatives focused on identity theft prevention, victim assistance, and deterrence. The initiatives, most of which have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented, include a nationwide consumer education campaign, which the commission has launched under the name: “Avoid ID Theft: Deter, Detect, Defend.” Since its launch, the agency has distributed over 2.6 million copies of the Deter, Detect, Defend brochure, and has recorded nearly five million visits to the campaign’s Web site. This campaign supplements existing FTC consumer education efforts. For example, since 2000, the commission has distributed more than 9.7 million copies of its identity theft primer and victim recovery guide. The FTC also sponsors a multimedia Web site, OnGuard Online, designed to educate consumers about basic computer security, including the importance of not disclosing personal information to possible fraudsters. Developed in partnership with other agencies and the technology sector, OnGuard Online has attracted more than 4.3 million visits to its Web site.

The testimony describes a number of other Task Force-recommended initiatives, some of which are intended to help prevent identity theft. For example, the commission hosted two public workshops this year to identify ways to make sensitive information, such as Social Security numbers, less valuable for identity thieves, and will issue a report to Congress