he Federal Trade Commission has found that nearly 10 million people a year are victims of identity theft. That translates into nearly $48 billion in losses to businesses, nearly $5 billion in losses to individual victims, and nearly 300 million victim hours spent trying to resolve the resulting problems.
Cooperation in the enforcement community is critical to reducing identity theft, increasing convictions, and educating consumers. By leveraging limited resources, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies can share cutting-edge investigative techniques, bring stronger cases, and offer effective communications to consumers and the business community.
The magnitude of the problem alone makes the case for partnerships among law enforcement agencies as an essential part of the program to attack identity theft. But there are other reasons why partnerships are essential. First, identity thieves do not recognize state or federal boundaries, which makes it difficult for single law enforcement agencies to catch them. Second, law enforcement agencies are under increased pressure to take reports from identity theft victims and conduct investigations. A number of states have enacted laws that require police departments to take reports, and new federal legislation, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003, specifically cites police reports as an integral-and necessary-part of a victim's recovery process.
As chairman of the FTC, I am proud that this agency has been involved in the battle against identity theft since this crime began to surge in the past decade. I am also especially proud that, from the beginning, we have worked hand in hand with other law enforcement agencies, supporting investigations through data sharing and training programs, and enhancing consumer knowledge through the provision of practical information in plain language. I am grateful that the IACP has been part of the process for several years: the association passed a resolution in 2000 to urge police departments to take identity theft reports and refer victims to the FTC, and it was a key player in developing our successful law enforcement training program.
Although technology has given scam artists new ways to take people's identities, personal information, and money, law enforcement has made much progress. I am pleased to highlight some of the resources that are available to those law enforcement officials who are bringing identity thieves to justice and piece of mind to victims, other consumers, and businesses in their communities.
Pursuant to the 1998 Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act, the FTC established the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse, the federal government's central database for identity theft complaints. Investigators can use the clearinghouse to search for information on suspects and victims to develop or enhance their investigations, and coordinate with investigators in other jurisdictions. Investigators with an Internet connection can access the clearinghouse through a secure online system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To ensure a rich database, the FTC accepts information from a wide variety of sources, including victim reports that come through our toll-free call center (877-ID-THEFT) and online complaint form (consumer.gov/idtheft), transmissions from other federal and state agencies, and the private sector. As I write this, the clearinghouse has more than 720,000 complaints.
Federal agencies can put the national spotlight on the most egregious crimes against consumers. But it is state and local law enforcement agencies that engage in the daily battle against crimes like identity theft.
Representatives of the IACP, the FTC, and other federal law enforcement agencies participate in the Subcommittee on Identity Theft under the Attorney General's Committee on White Collar Crime in an effort to facilitate the sharing of investigatory techniques and the latest criminal methods of operation. To bring these messages closer to the front lines, the FTC, in cooperation with the IACP, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and the U.S. Secret Service conduct day-long identity theft training seminars for state and local law enforcement officers nationwide. In fact, since 2002, when these training days were launched, more than 1,800 law enforcement officers from Atlanta to San Francisco have benefited from this in-service course.
Recognizing that not every department can spare its officers for a full day of training, the Secret Service has produced a roll call training video to alert even more officers to identity theft, investigative resources, and victim assistance. Thousands of law enforcement departments across the nation already have received free copies of this important educational tool. Additional copies are available from Secret Service field offices.
The FTC also developed an identity theft case referral program. FTC staff members create preliminary investigative reports by examining patterns of activity in the database and then refining the data using additional investigative resources. FTC staff members then refer these investigative reports to the appropriate financial crimes task forces and other law enforcers across the country for further investigation and potential prosecution. Federal partners, including the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Postal Inspection Service, help the FTC in these endeavors. In fact, FBI and Postal Inspection Service analysts are working onsite at the FTC using sophisticated analytical software to find related complaints and combine the information with other data sources available only to the FBI.
Reaching the Public
The FTC believes that education is a consumer's first line of defense against fraudsters and scam artists. As a result, the agency has developed a variety of free publications and other resources for use by law enforcement officials who are engaged in community outreach and victim assistance. ID Theft: What's It All About? explains how identity theft occurs, how to manage personal information, how to tell if you are a victim of the crime, and what to do if your identity is stolen. Identity Theft: Rescuing Your Good Name is a detailed victim recovery guide that describes what steps to take, legal rights, how to handle specific problems a victim may encounter on the way to clearing his or her name, and what to watch for in the future. The guide also includes the ID Theft Affidavit, a timesaving form for victims to use when disputing unauthorized accounts with creditors. These consumer publications are available in English and Spanish.
For businesses that experience an information compromise, Information Compromise and the Risk of Identity Theft: Guidance for Your Business has advice on notifying consumers, law enforcement agencies, and the three major consumer reporting companies. All these materials may be found at (www.consumer.gov/idtheft), a Web site that also includes links to statistics, the online complaint form, identity theft-related state laws, and other tips and resources for law enforcement.
In the coming months, the FTC will be working together with industry and law enforcement agencies on new initiatives to counter identity theft and help victims. Improving information sharing and simplifying and standardizing ways to provide victims with reports are among our top priorities. We look forward to working in continued partnership with the IACP, as well as with state and federal criminal law enforcement agencies. ■