Identity Theft Task Force: Recommendations Include a Call for a National Identity Theft Law Enforcement Center but It's Not Likely to Happen Anytime Soon

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IDENTITY THEFT was the number one consumer complaint made to the Federal Trade Commission last year. It affected more than eight million Americans and cost nearly $50 billion, according to a 2007 study by Javelin Strategy and Research.

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Findings recently issued by a presidential task force charged with looking into the issue have received mixed reviews. Among the task force's recommendations: a call for the analysis and decrease of Social Security number use in the private and public sectors; a recommendation for guidelines on safeguarding consumer data and dealing with data breaches and breach notification; and the initiation of a public awareness campaign.

"This is the highest level attention any administration has given to identify theft," says Evan Hendricks, editor of Privacy Times. However, "the weakness there is that they didn't tackle the tough private sector issues."

Hendricks says the task force should have endorsed the idea of giving consumers the right to ask for credit report freezes, which more than 20 states have done, to prevent identity theft. The tool enables individuals to halt access to their credit reports.

The argument in favor of freezes is that since a credit report is the first step toward getting a loan or opening a credit card account, identity thieves would be stymied in their attempts to initiate fraudulent credit activity in someone else's name if those accounts were frozen.

"That's one of the most important issues, and they basically side-stepped it," Hendricks says.

Jay Foley, cofounder of the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego, California, says credit freezes would tie up businesses and make it more difficult for consumers to get credit in an emergency. "In the long run, it will do nothing but cripple the American economy," Foley says.

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That seems unlikely given that so many states have already taken the initiative in the absence of federal legislation. California became the first state to pass a credit report freeze option in 2003. Joanne McNabb, chief of the California Office of Privacy Protection, says she receives few consumer complaints about it. …