Recognizing identity theft as "the greatest threat to consumers today," Treasury Secretary John Snow has called for legislation to help consumers better deal with suspected identity theft.
Congress is currently working on renewing the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and Secretary Snow wants some consumer relief included.
His proposals call for:
- a one-call center which shares information between credit bureaus so consumers don't have to contact each credit bureau;
- access to free annual credit reports;
- promoting best practices for the sharing of credit information – things like blocking fraudulent account information and doing it immediately before bad information becomes built into the system;
- a national security alert system which provides the procedures for consumers to contact banks or merchants to alert them to the potential of identity theft, which would then set a chain of events in motion for businesses to proactively seek out and stop fraud.
The government does not want to imply that these proposals will end identity theft problems, but they expect these additional proposals to make it easier for consumers to deal with this "growing menace."
"This goes on all over America and it really needs to be stopped," Snow said. "We need to make it more difficult to take one's identity and much easier to reestablish one's identity," he added.
Secretary Snow pointed out that "the wretched depravity of some identity crimes defies the imagination." Some examples he cited:
- In a ring stretching from New Jersey to California, a healthcare worker in cahoots with bank insiders and mortgage brokers got the names of terminally ill hospital patients, forged their identities, drained their bank accounts, and then bought houses and cars in their names – stealing their identify and looting their finances.
- Another recent case involved a rash of scammers posing in military uniforms who visited the wives of soldiers deployed in Iraq. They falsely informed the wives that their husbands had been seriously wounded. The con artists then tried to collect personal information about the soldiers from the distraught wives, to enable the scammers to use the solders’ identities and steal the families’ savings.
- In other cases, thieves have impersonated representatives from well-known charities, or used names that sound like well-known charities to collect donor information – all for the purpose of emptying the accounts of the duped donors.