FTC giving citizens a personal touch when dealing with identity theft

The Federal Trade Commission is giving the ever-growing problem of identity theft a personal touch. Through its website, IdentityTheft.gov, the FTC is letting victims find more specific information about how to respond to their problems, and how to protect themselves.

Nat Wood, the director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection’s Division of Consumer and Business Education, said the agency made sure the IdentityTheft.gov website focused on its customers’ needs first and foremost.

“The recovery plan is based on what you tell us about your personal experiences with identity theft so it will be very specific to what has happened you,” Wood said in an interview with Federal News Radio. “We realized there was a lot more we could add for this particularly complex crime so that people who experienced identity theft can get something that relates to exactly what’s happened to them. The system generates letters. It generates the personal recovery plan, which will have many steps.”

The FTC’s site caters to those citizens and others who have experienced complicated identity thefts, such as multiple accounts opened in their name or wage and tax fraud that can take a long time to sort out.

Advertisement

Wood said previously the site would provide standard consumer and business education templates.

This focus on customer service and its impact helped it receive a recent Igniting Innovation award from ACT-IAC.

ACT-IAC recognized the FTC and its industry partner Lockheed Martin in the Dynamite Award Winners category as the “Impacter – greatest magnitude of innovation results and benefits.”

Wood said the FTC expanded IdentityTheft.gov to meet the goals in President Barack Obama’s 2014 Executive Order to better secure online transactions.

In that order, the FTC was to work with the Social Security Administration to streamline and consolidate information at IdentityTheft.gov. The Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration also would work with the FTC to enhance the functionality of the website by coordinating with credit bureaus to streamline reporting and remediation of losses.

Wood said the FTC hasn’t met the goal of interoperability with the credit bureaus yet, but the improved IdentityTheft.gov site is making a big difference.

Will the upcoming presidential transition impact your decision to retire? Take our online survey.

He said since January when the agency launched the new site—in time for the 2015 tax season—citizens have created more than 120,000 accounts and have reported new and different types and a larger amount of data  to the FTC.

The FTC received 490,000 consumer complaints about identify theft last year, up 47 percent from 2014. The Justice Department estimates that 17.6 million Americans were victims of some form of identity theft in 2014.

Wood said victims of identity theft would come to the site and begin answering questions specifically about what happened. He said the system uses logic to present a next set of questions that are particular to the user’s problem.

“Now it’s much more smart and streamlined,” he said. “Once you get to the end of the reporting process, you have the opportunity to create an account. The accounts are secure. We are using two-factor authentication but it’s also very easy to set one up. The benefit of the account is that you get the personal recovery plan, which will go step-by-step based on what you told us in the reporting phase and you can immediately get a step-by-step plan that will tell you what you can do to best  recover from this specific type of identity theft that happened to you.”

Wood said the FTC expanded its existing contract with Lockheed and the update cost less than $2 million. Lockheed has managed the FTC’s call center and complaint intake process for several years. All of the information goes into the Consumer Sentinel Network, which is available to law enforcement agencies around the world so they can use the information to bring cases against identity thieves.

“Lockheed was key in saying here is what we can do and scoping out the project,” Wood said.

Wood added he believes the model behind IdentityTheft.gov could be used for other consumer and business education projects, such as the consumer fraud or other similar problems.

As for IdentityTheft.gov, Wood said future enhancements may include letting users complete all forms online and have those forms shared with the appropriate partner agencies. For example, if a citizen needs to generate an IRS affidavit, the FTC can do that, but the form is sent electronically to the IRS, which then prints it out and re-inputs it into their system. Wood said the FTC would like that process to remain all electronic.

He said the FTC still has the goal of interoperability with credit reporting system, which would let citizens request their credit report and give feedback whether it’s accurate right inside the website.

“The site has relevant information for people whether they are victims of identity theft or if they’ve just gotten a notice that their information was lost in a data breach,” Wood said. “We don’t consider someone who’s experienced a loss of data in a data breach necessarily to be a victim of identity theft. We wouldn’t require people to go through the process of providing all the information that identity theft victims do. However, we do have information about what to do if you’ve experienced a data breach at IdentityTheft.gov/databreach.”