US Gov't Increasing Efforts to Fight ID Theft, Report Says

The U.S. government has taken several steps to combat identity theft during the past two years, including increased prosecutions of criminals and decreased use of Social Security numbers to identify constituents, according to a report released Tuesday.

Efforts to reduce and fight ID theft are happening across the U.S. government, says the report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Trade Commission. The report serves as an update on the efforts of the U.S. Identity Theft Task Force, established by President George Bush in May 2006.

Among the steps taken in the past two years, according to the report:

-- The DOJ increased the number of ID theft prosecutions by 27 percent between fiscal year 2006 and 2007. In 2006, the DOJ charged 1,946 defendants with violating one of the two main federal identity theft statutes and 1,534 defendants were convicted. In 2007, 2,470 defendants were charged and 1,943 were convicted.

-- The FTC and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have also investigated cases involving ID theft. In the past year, the FTC brought six new enforcement actions against companies that allegedly failed to take reasonable measures to protect sensitive consumer data, bringing the total of FTC data security cases to 20.

-- In March 2007, the SEC launched an effort to combat spam-driven stock market schemes and to protect investors from fraudulent e-mail campaigns hyping small-company stocks. Since then, the number of spam complaints reported to the SEC's online complaint center has dropped by 50 percent.

-- U.S. agencies have cut back on their use of Social Security numbers (SSNs) to identify employees and constituents. The Department of Defense has launched an effort to reduce its internal use of SSNs, including eliminating them from military ID cards. The Internal Revenue Service has been redacting taxpayer SSNs to the last four digits on all federal tax lien documents filed in public records.

-- In 2007, the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Homeland Security sent a list of 10 common data security risks and the best ways to address them to all federal CIOs.

-- In September, Bush signed the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act, which allows victims to recover the value of their lost time when dealing with ID theft and creates new categories of crimes related to ID theft.

-- In February, the U.S. Postal Service mailed ID theft protection information to 146 million people and businesses in the U.S.

-- Several agencies, including the DOJ, FTC and U.S. Secret Service, have provided ID theft training seminars for more than 900 law enforcement officers.

The Identity Theft Task Force issued a strategic plan, outlining 31 recommendations for the federal government, in April 2007.

"Due to the dynamic and rapidly changing nature of identity theft, the struggle to protect consumers' personal information will not end with the implementation of the recommendations from the Strategic Plan," the FTC and DOJ said in a news release. "Government and the private sector, working together with consumers, must remain vigilant and adaptable as new generations of identity thieves and techniques develop over the coming years."

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