Report:

Policing Privacy:

Law Enforcement's Response To Identity Theft
Released by: CALPIRG Education Fund

Executive Summary

In 2001, the Los Angeles Times dubbed identity theft "the fastest-growing crime problem in California."

Indeed, California has the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft in the nation.

This report summarizes interviews CALPIRG Education Fund held with law enforcement officers from California and other cities with high identity theft rates.

These officers are on the front lines of efforts to slow the identity theft crime wave. Their unique and often unheard perspective results from their contact with every aspect of the crime, as well as the multiple players involved-the victims, the credit lenders, the thieves, and the prosecutors.

From their observations and conclusions, we hope to shed light on policies that can help prevent the identity thief from striking.

The key findings from CALPIRG Education Fund's survey are:

1. Identity theft is on the rise:

• Almost every officer (27 out of 28 interviewed) claimed to have witnessed a rise in identity theft cases within his or her department during his or her time on staff.

2. Identity theft crimes are often unsolved:

• On average, law officers surmised that only 11 percent of identity theft cases received by their departments are solved.

3. Law enforcement officers feel new policies are necessary to help deter identity theft:

• More than 85 percent of officers responding felt that credit lenders should meet stricter requirements to ensure that credit is not extended to identity thieves.

More than one officer also made the following recommendations:

• Ensure lenders cooperate with police investigations;

• Set stiffer penalties for identity thieves;

• Further develop interagency databases to facilitate multi-jurisdiction cooperation;

• Facilitate investigation and prosecution of identity theft by clarifying and standardizing jurisdiction issues.

These findings may provide additional guidance to policymakers seeking to provide new legal and administrative tools to those whose job it is to tackle this quickly evolving field of consumer fraud.

Criminalizing identity theft is not enough. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft complaints doubled in 2002, even though Congress acted to criminalize identity theft in 1998. Credit agencies, banks and other issuers of credit need to end the sloppy practices that aid and abet the identity thieves at the front end.

The California Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (CALPIRG)  is a result-oriented public interest group that protects consumers, encourages a fair sustainable economy, and fosters responsive democratic governance.

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