ID Prevention and Prosecution Should be Top Priority?

A new report from the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General says the government is making a big mistake by not making ID theft prevention and prosecution a top priority.

In audit by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General reveals that while the FBI and Justice Department have made "various efforts" to fight identity theft crimes in recent years, these initiatives have "faded as priorities" mainly because the agencies have failed to develop a coordinated plan to deal with what's become an epidemic of cybercrimes.

The audit (PDF format) is the most recent and comprehensive review of federal law enforcement's efforts to uphold The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, a statute passed during President George W. Bush's second term that made identity theft a federal crime.

And while there have been a handful of high-profile identity theft arrests and convictions, the OIG report found that the number of defendants both charged and convicted of identity theft actually decreased between 2008 and 2009, despite the fact that the several independent surveys and reports show a dramatic increase in both the number of people and dollars lost to online identity theft scams.

According to the audit, 138 of 239 suspected identity thieves were convicted last year, down from 144 of 296 charged in 2008. Meanwhile, financial services researcher Javelin Strategy & Research in February reported that more than 11.1 million adults were victims of identity theft and fraud in 2009 -- up 12 percent from 2008 -- and the total costs of these crimes, including actual assets stolen, as well as the costs associated with rectifying the damage caused by the crimes, surged to more than $54 billion.

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