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The Failure of the President’s ID Theft Task Force

On May 10th, 2006, President Bush signed an executive order to create an Identity Theft Task force in order to identify concrete steps to reducing the identity theft problem.

On Dec 26th, 2006, the task force put out a public call for comments

on ways to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of federal government efforts to reduce identity theft.

For the record, I responded with a letter about implementing Credit freeze laws and halting data abuse.

The Task Force correctly recommends Credit Security Freezes in their Interim Recommendations, but by the time it went to press, the language had been stripped out.

I was please to discover that the interim results of the task force included language about Credit Security Freezes! The problem is, the press release of the same doesn't.

I looked back into the data on their website and these recommendations were made long before their call for comments. Now that I know, I want someone to tell me why they took the language out in the first place, and if they plan to ignore my comments that they asked for.

Here is the relevant paragraph from the interim recommendations:

For residents of states in which state law authorizes a credit freeze, consider placing a credit freeze on their credit file. This option is most useful when the breach includes information that can be used to open a new account, such as SSNs. A credit freeze cuts off third party access to a consumer’s credit report, thereby effectively preventing the issuance of new credit in the consumer’s name.

This simply says what I've been saying all along, credit freezes are the best tool for preventing ID theft in the form of someone opening credit in your name. It all but makes it impossible for someone to do so! But they stripped this out!? What political horse hooey resulted in this?

Why won't the FTC, who has begin a massive consumer education initiative to help deter ID theft bother to publicly recommend THE MOST EFFECTIVE ANTI-ID THEFT TOOL AVAILABLE!?

How exactly is the FTC doing their job? Everyone cries and moans about ID theft with the veterans breach, the TJX breach, the IRS laptops, again, and again, and AGAIN!

And what's the normal response? Fraud alerts. Great. Now some commissioned salesman somewhere will be staring into the face of an identity thief who he's just spend two hours with selecting an extremely expensive and high paying home theater system as he runs their credit, see the fraud alert flag, thinks about it a moment, thinks, "The ID looks real enough, this is the right person", and then punches the GO button. That's oh SO effective in preventing ID theft.

Even better, I might get Credit monitoring for FREE! Well, whee! That's just great. Thanks for paying for my worthless monitoring service which will tell me in horrific real time that I'm being ripped off rather than actually do anything to stop it.

Meanwhile, we have the FTC's and the President's custom task force who recommended what people need to hear, but the information was suppressed. Well, at least we now know for sure that neither the FTC or the President are actually interested in curbing Identity Theft.

April 17th, 2007 Update

Today, I called the FTC office of media relations. I was directed to Claudia Bourne Farrell who apparently was the one who drafted the press release. She contends that credit freeze language was "probably" stripped for brevity, but I persisted with the importance of leaving it in.

While she disagreed with my conclusion of the value of credit freezes, I tried to impress on her the relative strength of freezes versus fraud alerts and credit monitoring (both of which did make it into the press release). However, I think she was unable to hear what I was saying without becoming defensive (it was her press release after all).

I don't blame her since she was polite and professional at all times, but I can hardly be satisfied with that. She said that there was no way at this time to appeal to the ID Theft Task Force directly and that she was already working on the press release for the final recommendations. The only chance I'd have to make my point was to contact her directly via e-mail (which she provided me).

Here is the e-mail I sent to her as well as the office of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (the ID Theft Task Force Chair):

Dear Ms. Bourne-Farrell,

If you understand how credit freezes work as you say, I hope you will see that they are far more effective than fraud alerts (which are optional for retailers to follow), and credit monitoring (which only alerts you to bad activity without actually stopping it). Freezes fully prevent ANY kind of check of one's credit report without express consent.

While stopping the proliferation of private data and the loss thereof is a huge part of the problem, I and all other Americans would sleep better knowing that in many cases, it doesn't matter who has the data because they can't use it for anything that requires a credit check.

Please, please understand that I don't mean to be offensive when I ask this, but how is the FTC doing their job when they won't even list credit freezes as an important tool for consumers along with fraud alerts (which are temporary and of questionable effectiveness) and credit monitoring (which doesn't stop anything plus costs a monthly fee)?

Thank you for listening,


Jeremy Duffy

And here is the one I sent to Alberto Gonzales, Chair of the ID Theft Task Force:

Dear Mr. Gonzales,

I have begun following some of the developments of the Identity Theft Task force and am extremely concerned. Credit Freezes are the best way to ensure consumer peace of mind, and I see that the task force has mentioned it in your interim recommendations (which is good). However, your press release didn't include it!

I have contacted the FTC's media relations department and am unsure if my message will be acted on. I am hoping that they will not repeat this mistake in the release of your final recommendations, but I am doubtful. Please make sure, for all our sakes, that the Task Force's message of credit security freezes is heard loud and clear, not just in the full documents, but the press releases as well.

Thank you for your time,

Jeremy Duffy

Wish me luck.

Update: Final recommendations released

I noticed that the press release doesn't summarize at all. Maybe I got through to Ms. Bourne Farrell after all. On the other hand, they included Credit freeze language, but only barely. See this link for the full details.

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How to Steal Identities - Why It's So Easy
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