Washington, DC – May 2, 2002 – The U.S. Justice Department today announced a massive crackdown on identity theft, and proposed new federal legislation to increase penalties against those convicted of stealing a persons identity.
In his announcement U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said the Justice Department has brought 73 new criminal cases against 135 suspected identity thieves across the country. One third of those cases include charges brought in the last 24 hours.
“The offenses charged include cases in which defendants who have bilked Americans of millions of dollars, preyed on the elderly and destroyed the credit of hard-working families,” Ashcroft said at a press conference today.
One case involved defendants who located houses owned by elderly citizens, and assumed their identities in order to sell or refinance the properties. One defendant is charged with selling Social Security numbers on eBay, while another case involved a hospital employee who stole the identities of 393 hospital patients to obtain credit cards using the false identities.
The second part of the two-pronged attack on identity theft is development of tougher laws that address the most serious cases of this crime and to provide greater protection to the public.
The measure would establish a new crime of aggravated identity theft, for individuals who commit ID theft as a means carrying out even more serious crimes such as domestic terrorism.
The bill also would allow law enforcement to prosecute identity thieves who possess false identity documents with the intent to commit a crime.
According to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft affects between 500,000 and 700,000 consumers each year.
The FTC offers both a website (http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft) and a toll-free number that accept reports of identity theft. The toll-free number is 1-877-IDTHEFT.