Image: Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission is making it easier for consumers to fight back against identity theft.
The consumer protection agency announced on Thursday afternoon a dramatic upgrade to the website IdentityTheft.gov, the agency’s online clearinghouse for information on what it calls a “pernicious crime.” New to the website is the ability to generate “affidavits and pre-fill letters and forms to be sent to credit bureaus, businesses, police, debt collectors and the IRS.” Central to these efforts is a new wizard that helps consumers, depending upon their situation, obtain the proper paperwork needed to undo the effects of identity theft, with separate categories for people who, for example, have had their debit card information stolen or who are the victims of tax fraud.
As someone who knows first-hand how much of a hassle it can be to deal with having your credit and debit cards hacked, this new FTC initiative is most welcome news (if not long overdue).
This marks the first time the US federal government has had a single website where consumers can “quickly file an official complaint and then get real, personalized help,” FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez said. Previously, the FTC offered general guidelines on how to combat identity theft, such as placing fraud alerts on credit reports and ordering free credit reports to monitor for suspicious transactions, but did not have any comprehensive tools for consumer use.
The number of people affected by identity theft is on the rise, with the FTC noting that it received more than 490,000 complaints in 2015, a 47 percent increase over 2014. The Department of Justice estimates that 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2014, up from 11.7 million between 2006 and 2008. None of this should surprise the average Motherboard reader, given the seemingly endless number of data breaches that occur nowadays.