Uncle Sam's coming crackdown on ID theft

Attorney Eric J. Sinrod says the federal government is finally taking steps to combat identity theft.

Is the federal government getting the job done when it comes to identity theft? The Department of Justice has issued a document summarizing its progress. Uncle Sam's apparent aim is to convey the message that the government is aggressively working to turn back the rising tide of ID theft. Read on and draw your own conclusions.

The Justice Department defines ID theft as a crime that victimizes people and businesses in every community, from major cities to small towns. In fact, a presidential task force, co-chaired by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras, began working in May to develop a comprehensive national strategy to combat its spread.

The Justice Department expects that its recommendations will result in the improved ability of the government and the private sector to combat this online scourge. Big claims, but the federal government no doubt can bring tremendous resources to bear. And that is the case here with some 17 federal agencies and departments having been mobilized for the job.

Cross-agency cooperation to disrupt identity theft also is increasingly widespread, with federal authorities helping to coordinate 96 task forces and working groups.

Law enforcement authorities can now tap a Federal Trade Commission repository of more than 1 million complaints to identify trends and targets. The idea is to encourage more coordination and data sharing among the 1,300-plus criminal enforcement agencies with access to this system.

• U.S. Attorneys increasingly participate in identity theft task forces or working groups.

• The FBI participates in 21 identity theft/financial crimes task forces or working groups in most of the major metropolitan areas. In addition, the agency's cyber division includes more than 80 working groups to investigate all cybercrime violations, including identity theft and Internet fraud.

• The Secret Service has 51 financial and electronic crimes task forces dedicated to fighting identity theft-related crimes.

• The Postal Inspection Service actively leads 13 financial crimes task forces and working groups.

• Fraud task forces have been set up in 11 cities to enhance interagency communication and improve each agency's ability to pursue fraud investigations.

Before the president receives the final strategic plan in November, a set of interim recommendations are being implemented.

These include:

• The formulation of step-by-step guidance to federal agencies should they suffer a data breach

• A uniform police report to be used by identity theft victims

• An amendment to the criminal restitution statutes that would allow identity theft victims to recover the value of the time that they spend attempting to make themselves whole

• "Good government" measures to reduce the amount of paper currently in circulation that contains Social Security numbers, which can be the most valuable piece of consumer information to an identity thief

Are these recommendations going to be enough? More meat clearly needs to be put on these bones. However, the fact that the government appears to be taking identity theft as a serious matter is a good sign.

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