The identity theft problem in the United States is more serious than had been believed. A survey by the Federal Trade Commission estimates that nearly 10 million people were victims in the past year, crimes that took a total of 300 million hours to correct and cost people $5 billion.
The Washington Post says the survey estimated that over five years, 27.3 million people have personal information like credit card or Social Security numbers misused to buy products or establish credit. J. Howard Beales of the commission’s Consumer Protection Bureau called identity theft a “crime of the times” that has increased significantly in the past three years.
The biggest problem last year involved misuse of existing accounts, such as unauthorized charges on credit cards or telephone bills. Consumer advocates said Bush administration proposals to limit identity theft, including stricter penalties for offenders and tighter regulations for financial institutions, did not go far enough. The FTC and Congress “need to go the core of the problem and penalize credit grantors” for extending unauthorized credit, said privacy consultant Robert Gellman.