A Senate committee is examining the growing consumer problem known as identity fraud to educate the public and get help to people who have been victimized.
Victims told a Senate Banking subcommittee Wednesday of their frustration in trying to persuade authorities to pursue people who were using their Social Security numbers and other information to charge up new credit accounts or cash bad checks.Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, chairman of the financial services and technology panel, said the crimes are difficult to investigate and that he would draft legislation to give one federal agency jurisdiction over such investigations.
"For the victims . . . identity theft can result not only in financial losses but in the loss of reputation and security, which are difficult to recover," Bennett said.
Darylle Goodfield has lived through it.
Police kept refusing to take a report because they said she wasn't a victim, she told the senators. Yet someone was using her name, driver's license and Social Security numbers to open credit accounts and cash bogus checks in the Los Angeles area.
"This was beginning to sound like a broken record. If I wasn't a victim, what was I?" she said.
Officials from the Secret Service to the Federal Trade Commission said the problem is serious and lucrative, though they can't say how much it costs.
"Our personal identifiers are now, more than ever before, valuable to criminals," said James Bauer, deputy assistant director of investigations for the Secret Service. But he said federal authorities can't fight this kind of crime alone.
"States have to do a lot as well," Bauer said. "We really are working on these (crimes). It is not as if we're turning a deaf ear to them."
Social Security numbers appear to be stolen most often, he said.
Thieves get information in many ways, such as snatching pre-approved credit card applications from mailboxes, sifting through people's trash cans and buying lists of data from individuals and businesses that compile such information and sell it to the public.
And the Internet has made getting the information even easier.
Authentic-looking Web pages for low-interest charge cards, consumer loans and services to repair bad credit dupe people into putting their personal histories into cyberspace. Some sites also offer step-by-step instructions on how to commit credit card fraud.
Bauer said people need to know their information can be used against them. But Goodfield said even that doesn't always work.