By: Gerri L. Elder
In October, the Bush administration issued its annual Identity Theft Task Force Report.
The annual report included 31 recommendations for fighting identity theft and fraud and boasted a 26 percent increase in identity theft convictions from 2007, according to an article by Consumer Affairs.
The report is 70 pages long and details steps that federal agencies have taken to implement the recommendations that were originally proposed in the Identity Theft Task Force's April 2007 strategic plan.
The strategic plan was based on recommendations made by the Task Force when it was founded in 2006. It emphasized a reduction of the use of Social Security numbers as identifiers for businesses and government agencies.
The task force pointed out that the Social Security number is prized by identity thieves because it often takes nothing more than this one piece of information to open new credit accounts in a victim's name. The report suggests that one simple way to cut down on identity theft and data breaches is to only collect sensitive personal information when it is absolutely necessary.
One recommendation made by the task force was that the government's Office of Personnel Management (OPM) review the use of Social Security numbers by federal agencies and issue new recommendations for eliminating or reducing their use in routine paperwork. There has already been progress in this area, according to the task force.
Additionally, the task force reported that OPM has been cooperating with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to conduct studies on the feasibility of using a new unique identifier for all federal employees, instead of a Social Security number.
The task force also made efforts to improve the availability of help and restitution for identity theft victims. It takes an average of 600 hours and $6,000 for identity theft victims to repair damage done by identity theft. Repair of identity theft damage can often be so time consuming and expensive that victims are forced into filing bankruptcy before it is all worked out.
The primary recommendation made by the task force was a widespread adoption of a "passport" document that identity theft victims can use to verify their identities while the identity theft is being investigated.
The pilot "passport" program has already been launched by the Justice Department and is being used in Ohio. Now identity theft victims in Ohio can enter their information into a statewide database that is available to law enforcement agencies in order to help reduce additional instances of identity fraud.
The task force also recommended establishing partnerships with lawyers and legal aid services on state and federal levels to provide identity theft victims with more legal help.
According to the task force report, in 2007 there were 2,470 people in the United States who were arrested and charged with crimes related to identity theft. Of those, 1,943 were convicted. Eleven of those indicted were members of the hacker ring responsible for stealing 40 million credit and debit card numbers from TJX and its affiliates.