What Have You Done for Me Lately? Identity Theft Protection & Penalities

In his second term as President, Bush has been criticized on major issues from the economy to the War in Iraq. While the focus has been on the “war against terrorism,” many Americans have fallen victim to the fastest growing crime in America, identity theft.
Since great strides were made during 2000-2006 on protecting, preventing and penalizing identity theft, but since then very little has been done on the federal level,. So what steps can be taken to keep up with this growing crime and ever changing technology that makes it easier to occur?

In his second term as President, Bush has been criticized on major issues from the economy to the War in Iraq. While the focus has been on the “war against terrorism,” many Americans have fallen victim to the fastest growing crime in America, identity theft.
Facts about Identity Theft 2000-present
In 2001 identity theft was involved in more than 40 percent of the consumer complaints received by the Federal Trade Commission, twice as many as were received the year before.
Also reported 2001, identity theft involving social security numbers had rocketed 500 percent in four just years.
In 2002, banks were losing over $1 billion annually and individual identity theft victims lost an average of $18,000.
Despite these growing numbers, only a third of convicted identity thieves ever went to prison.
Just what laws has President Bush signed to thwart the threat and devastating consequences of identity theft?
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, December 2003
• required merchants to delete credit card numbers prior to the last five on all receipts
• created a National System of Fraud Detection made it possible for consumers to report identity theft and issue a nationwide alert with one phone call
• entitled consumers to one free credit report annually from each of the 3 agencies for credit reporting
The Identity Theft Penalty Act, July 15, 2004
• identified a new crime of “aggravated identity theft”
• added two years to all prison sentences for those convicted of identity theft using stolen credit cards or personal information in commission of identity theft crimes
Why are penalties for the crime of Identity Theft so important?
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, an Executive Order for the Nation’s First Identity Theft Task Force was initiated and chaired by the Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission Chair was designed to: assist law enforcement in investigation and prosecution of identity theft crimes as well as called for education on avoiding identity theft crimes for the public as well as businesses.
In a speech announcing the signing of The Identity Theft Penalty Act, 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.”
Of course there have been many players at work on Capitol Hill pushing for the laws and enforcements that President Bush has signed. Senator Dianne Feinstein has been championing for reforms and tougher laws for identity theft. She’s seen firsthand how easy it is to have your identity stolen. According to Feinstein, “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.”
Maybe if more politicians had a reminder on their desk, in the form of a credit card obtained in their name, more steps would be taken to protect a consumer’s information and identity when making purchases, paying bills or simply reading email or regular mail. One such step could be the elimination of the use of Social Security Numbers as an everyday identifier for everything from your Driver’s License number, insurance policies or even medical records. The lack of a SSN number is one of the primary reasons that identity theft is so prevalent in the United States, and while a problem in other countries does not occur to the extent it does in the US. While consumers are encouraged to do all that they can in order to protect themselves from identity theft, it is important that laws are made with the appropriate penalties for this crime as well as actions taken to protect consumers and businesses.
What do you think would be an effective legal measure to protect against or penality against the crime of identity theft?