Several factors have combined to make identity theft a particularly intractable crime, says the New York Times. They include the growth of the Internet and digital finance, expanding consumer credit worldwide, the hodgepodge nature of local and federal law enforcement, and the changing regulations governing the credit industry. Everyone is fair game. Thieves recently snatched the identity of a three-week-old infant in Bothell, Wash. The dead have been favorite targets of identity thieves for years. Thieves now assume the false guise of entire companies, adopting a business’s employer identification number to secure commercial loans, corporate leases, or expensive office products.
In a long feature on the problem, the Times describes what is being done. President Bush recently signed tougher punishments for identity theft, but hurdles remain. Smaller cases are sometimes ignored or delayed until they can be bundled into high-profile, high-impact prosecutions. “It’s the simple reality of us trying to build that small case into something larger before I commit resources to it,” said Dan Larkin, head of the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. “For me to try to build that case I’m going to need to ratchet it up a little bit.” Last year, Bush signed a law that expands consumer credit protections and offers provisions making it simpler for consumers to resolve identity theft problems and protect their accounts. The new law, which does not take effect until Dec. 1, aims to make it easier for consumers to get police reports when their identities have been stolen. A survey by Gartner Inc., a research firm, criticized banks, financial service firms, and others in the credit industry for not putting into effect more rigorous computer screening procedures to protect customer accounts. It also said that ineffective screening ultimately forced identity theft victims to bear most of the crime’s costs.