WASHINGTON - November 27 - A new report released by the Federal Trade Commission today estimates that 8.3 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2005. The report underscores the need to provide consumers with stronger protections against identity fraud, according to Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.
“Identity theft is a huge headache that continues to plague millions of Americans every year,” said Gail Hillebrand, Director of Consumers Union’s Financial Privacy Now campaign. “It’s time to require businesses and government agencies to safeguard sensitive personal data and to give consumers the protection they need.”
While the FTC’s estimate of identity theft victims is lower than its 2003 report, the agency noted that the decline was not statistically significant. The FTC found that 37 percent of identity theft victims reported that they experienced problems beyond the time and money spent recovering from the fraud, such as harassment by debt collectors and denial of new credit. Sixty-eight percent of new account fraud victims reported experiencing these kinds of problems. The report found that nearly one-quarter of new account fraud victims did not find out about the misuse of their information until at least six months after it started.
As of November 1, consumers nationwide have the ability to thwart new account fraud by freezing access to their credit files. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws requiring credit reporting agencies to allow consumers to protect their credit files with a security freeze. The credit reporting agencies are now making this safeguard available to consumers in the remaining states. More information and tips on security freeze protection can be found at: http://www.ConsumersUnion.org/SecurityFreeze.htm
Consumers Union supports state and federal legislation to make the security freeze more affordable and easier to use. In addition, Consumers Union has long supported efforts to curb identity theft by reducing the widespread collection and availability of Social Security numbers, establishing a strong standard for companies to safeguard consumers’ personal data, and requiring that consumers be notified when a security breach occurs involving their sensitive personal information.