During his tenure as President, Bush has been criticized on many issues ranging from his handling of the economy to the War in Iraq. While the focal point of many policies has been the “war against terrorism,” many Americans are waging a war of a different sort. They have fallen victim to a fast- growing crime and are fighting an enemy that is well- equipped and full of surprises. The crime is identity theft and its menacing presence is more common today than at any point during the information age.
Facts about Identity Theft 2000-present:
In 2001, identity theft was directly involved in more than 40 percent of the consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission, a figure that was approximately double the number received in the previous year.
Also reported 2001, there was an alarming increase in identity theft involving social security numbers. This crime had increased 500 percent in only four years.
In 2002, Identity theft crime was directly involved in losses totaling more than $ 1 billion annually for the bank industry. During the same period, individual identity theft victims lost an average of $ 18,000 each.
In spite of these dramatic increases, only one in three convicted identity theft thieves ever went to prison.
What laws has President Bush signed to reduce the instances of identity theft and its consequences?
One law that has been passed is The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, December 2003. The provisions of this law include:
* Requires merchants to delete majority of credit card numbers used to transact business online, leaving only the last five digits visible on all receipts
* Creates a National System of Fraud Detection, making it possible for consumers to report identity theft quickly and painlessly with one phone call, which then issues a nationwide alert.
* Entitles consumers to one free credit report annually from each of the 3 main credit reporting agencies.
Another law that helps punish purveyors of identity theft is The Identity Theft Penalty Act, July 15, 2004. This law:
* Identifies a new crime now known as “aggravated identity theft”
* Adds two years to all prison sentences for those criminals convicted of identity theft who used stolen credit cards or personal information in commission of the crime.
How are these laws going to discourage Identity Theft crimes?
According to Betsy Broder, assistant director for the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Planning and Information, “The law will make it more likely that thieves are prosecuted. A prosecutor is less likely to bring a case if they’re not going to get any serious jail time when they get a conviction.”
In May, 2006, another step was taken to prevent identity theft when an executive order was issued, creating the nation’s first identity theft task force. Chaired by the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission Chair, this task force was designed to assist law enforcement in carrying out its investigations and prosecution of identity theft crimes and criminals. It also called on more public awareness and education on ways for individuals and businesses to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft crimes.
When the Identity Theft Penalty Act was signed into law, President Bush stated: “The crime of identity theft undermines the basic trust on which our economy depends. When a person takes out an insurance policy, or makes an online purchase, or opens a savings account, he or she must have confidence that personal financial information will be protected and treated with care. Identity theft harms not only its direct victims, but also many businesses and customers whose confidence is shaken. Like other forms of stealing, identity theft leaves the victim poor and feeling terribly violated.
But the losses are not measured only in dollars. An identity theft thief can steal the victim’s financial reputation. Running up bills on credit card accounts that the victim never knew existed, the criminal can quickly damage a person’s lifelong efforts to build and maintain a good credit rating. Repairing the damage can take a great deal of time, effort and money to correct. Government has a responsibility to protect citizens from these crimes and the grief and hassle they cause. It’s a solemn responsibility of our government. I want to thank the members of Congress for recognizing that responsibility.”
Many members of congress and representatives of various consumer interest groups have been pushing for laws to protect the public from identity theft and to severely punish perpetrators of this crime. Senator Dianne Feinstein has been a champion for reforms and tougher laws for identity theft criminals. She is fully aware of the problems caused by identity theft and she knows how easy it is to have your identity stolen. Feinstein said: “At a hearing, a police officer from Washington D.C. came forward and gave me a phony credit card that he’d gotten in my name. He showed how is easy it was. He’d gotten it that morning. I still have it in my desk.” Perhaps if more politicians had a reminder handed to them like Feinstein did, in the form of a credit card obtained in their name, they would pass more legislation to protect a consumer’s personal information and identity when conducting business online or simply when reading email messages.
One simple measure that would prevent part of the problem would be the outlawing of the use of Social Security Numbers as an identifier/personal id for everything from a Driver’s License, insurance policy, or medical record. The use of Social Security numbers is one of the primary reasons that identity theft is so prevalent in the United States. Likewise, the lack of a Social Security number is the reason identity theft doesn’t occur in other countries to the extent it does in the U.S. While consumers are encouraged to take the necessary steps to reduce the instances of identity theft, it is still important that the government also take an active role by passing laws with appropriate penalties for this crime and by taking preliminary actions to protect consumers and businesses from identity theft before it happens.