NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Identity Theft Is Growing Concern

April 12, 2001

Incidents of identity theft are soaring and consumers, Congress, credit bureaus and the U.S. Supreme Court are all involved in efforts to address the problem.

  • Identity theft cost consumers and merchants an estimated $1 billion last year.
  • In January, the Federal Trade Commission received 2,330 telephone complaints a week from identity-theft victims -- up from just 285 the year before.
  • Credit card fraud is, by far, the most common complaint of victims, at more than 12,000 incidents in 2000.
  • Other types of scams involve phone and utility bills, depository accounts, fraudulent loans and government documents.

Three credit check companies - Experian, Trans Union and Equifax -- which account for 90 percent of credit monitoring of American adults, are fighting proposed legislation aimed at discouraging identity theft. While individuals and merchants pay the costs of most fraud, the credit gathering companies fear that legislation would hamper their ability to profit by selling information on consumers.

Congress last year passed a bill that would restrict the sale of private consumer information -- including Social Security numbers, credit reports and other data -- but President Clinton said he would refuse to sign it. Similar bills have been introduced in this Congress. Observers don't believe the chance for passage is any better this time around.

In a case now before the Supreme Court, an identity-theft victim contends she should be given more time to address the credit fraud perpetrated against her. The issue involves interpretation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The victim says the two-year statute of limitations under the act should begin when the fraud was discovered. Credit bureaus argue that the reporting time under the law, with certain exceptions, should commence at the time the identity theft occurs.

Source: Robert S. Greenberger and Glenn R. Simpson, "Identity Theft Dogs Credit Bureaus in Court, Congress," Wall Street Journal, April 12, 2001.

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