FTC launches ID theft prevention program

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has launched an identity theft education campaign to coincide with President Bush's creation of a task force designed to tackle America's fastest growing crime.

The FTC’s "AvoID Theft: Deter, Detect, Defend" program plans to send 4,500 education kits to victim advocacy groups across the nation, the agency said in a statement on Wednesday. Materials include a victim recovery guide, training booklet and 10-minute video on ID theft.

"Personal information is the new currency," FTC Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras said. "Consumers should protect their personal information as carefully as they protect their cash."

Also on Wednesday, after hearing "horror stories" from ID theft victims, Bush met with reporters to announce the creation of a new federal task force made up of representatives from 13 government agencies.

The task force’s goal is to "make sure that this government of ours uses our assets in a responsible way, in a good way, to not only put those people who commit identity fraud in jail, but to help the victims of identity fraud," according to a White House press briefing transcript.

Industry leaders cheered the initiative and hoped it would spur more action to combat ID theft.

"This task force should help improve coordination among federal, state and local authorities," said Bill Conner, president and CEO of Entrust. "We hope the federal government’s leadership role on identity theft doesn’t end with this task force. While this is a positive step, Congress needs to pass a data breach notification law that assures consumers, clears up the patchwork of state laws and gives organizations the option to protect customer data through encryption."

According to the White House, about 10 million Americans each year become victims of ID theft, and cumulative annual losses amount to about $50 billion.

The FTC compiles ID theft complaints. The agency’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection helps authorities detect and prosecute identity fraudsters and works to provide victim assistance and consumer education.

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