RealTime IT News

Group Demands Restitution For ID Theft

WASHINGTON -- A federal task force on identity theft urged Congress today to require ID thieves pay victims for the time they spend restoring their credit.

The recommendation was one of a half dozen suggestions the President's Identity Task Force made in an interim report announced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras.

The interim recommendations also include reducing public sector dependence on Social Security numbers, development of a "universal police report" for ID theft victims, guidance to federal agencies on data breach procedures, improving government data security and alternative methods of identity authentication.

President Bush created the task force in May with a mandate for final recommendations by November.

"The president created [the task force] to oversee the implementation of real and practical solutions at the federal level to defeat this ongoing intrusion into the lives of law-abiding Americans," Gonzales said. "Today's recommendations move that process forward."

Gonzales said ID theft victims suffer not only feelings of violation and stress but are also stuck with dealing with credit agencies and other financial institutions in the aftermath of having their identities stolen.

The process can take months, all the while limiting the available credit to the victims.

"Victims have the added burden of cleaning up the mess the identity thieves leave behind," he said.

The task force wants Congress to amend the criminal restitution statutes to require that defendants pay ID theft victims for the value of their time.

The universal police report recommended by the task force would be a simple form completed online, printed and taken to a local law enforcement agency.

"This will ensure that victims have easy access to police reports documenting the misuse of their personal information, thereby assisting them with the work they need to do to protect their credit ratings and so on," Gonzales said.

Reducing the use of Social Security numbers by the federal government, he said, would serve as an example to the private sector.

"We are recommending that the public sector look seriously at ways to reduce access to Social Security numbers," Gonzales said.

"Social Security numbers are ubiquitous in government, and as the most valuable piece of consumer information to identity thieves, we must identify ways to keep them more confidential."

The task force said the Office of Personnel Management should accelerate its review of the government use of Social Security numbers and take steps to "eliminate, limit or conceal" their use by the government.

In light of the government's embarrassing string of data breaches over the summer, the task force developed a guidance report on how agencies should respond to the breaches.

The guidance includes how to give notice to victims and the factors to be considered in deciding if free credit monitoring should be given to the victims.

"A quick and effective response by agencies to data breaches is good government, and also has the important effect of allowing the individuals affected by the breach to protect themselves before they become victims," Gonzales said.