Each year, as many as 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft. This crime can turn victims’ lives upside down, violating their privacy and wrecking their financial status. Carolyn Shanoff and her team at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are arming millions of citizens, businesses and law enforcement officials with the most valuable weapon to combat identity theft: education.
Criminals can use your personal information to get a new credit card or rent an apartment, and you might not find out you’ve been defrauded until weeks, months or even years later. The impact of this problem is truly staggering. Hundreds of thousands of victims report spending more than 130 hours on average trying to resolve their problems, doing everything from recovering out of pocket expenses to restoring their credit ratings. Victims also report being harassed by debt collectors, having applications for loans improperly denied and seeing utility companies cut off their service. Some victims have even been wrongly arrested.
Under Carolyn Shanoff’s leadership, the FTC’s Division of Consumer and Business Education has developed an integrated educational campaign with an extensive network of partners to equip the nation’s citizens, businesses, and law enforcement officials with the tools they need to deter, detect, and defend against identity theft. These partners are helping to foster a culture of security by educating citizens about recognizing and minimizing the effects of the crime, which robs people of their good name, steals billions of dollars from the nation’s businesses and strains law enforcement resources. Further, the entire integrated educational campaign on identity theft is offered in Spanish as well as English.
Since the FTC launched its current identity protection outreach campaign, the agency has armed thousands of local law enforcement officials with tools to help identity theft victims, equipped tens of thousands of local organizations with materials to educate their members about avoiding identity theft, and distributed millions of publications directly to consumers. Information about identity theft on the agency’s Web site has been accessed more than 12 million times. The centerpiece of the campaign is the Identity Theft Education Kit, which enables anyone – regardless of their previous knowledge about identity theft – to educate an audience on the issue. The kit includes a compelling 10-minute video featuring victims and law enforcement officials, a “how to” guide for talking about identity theft and promoting the presentation, an easy-to-reproduce brochure, and a comprehensive assistance guide for identity theft victims.
The campaign has been a huge success. Since the campaign launch, the FTC has distributed more than 70,000 kits to local police departments, credit unions, service organizations, educational institutions and companies, as well as to federal government agencies, which, in turn, have distributed them to their local offices. In addition, the agency has distributed more than a million copies of the victim assistance guide, more than 3 million copies of a brochure and more than 275,000 copies of a special brochure for military personnel and their families. Indeed, orders have come from more than 100 military installations to date.
The FTC also encourages other organizations to adapt the information for their own audiences. Dozens of organizations have reprinted the FTC’s identity theft materials, including trade associations like the National Association of Realtors, academic institutions like the University of Texas and Purdue University, and other federal agencies, like the Secret Service and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. In February 2008, the US Postal Service sent the FTC’s Deter, Detect, Defend brochure to 121 million households with a cover letter from the Postmaster General.
Educating citizens about identity protection and identity theft is critically important to the nation. It has implications for the economy and for the vitality of e-commerce, with some studies estimating losses to the economy of up to $50 billion a year. Carolyn Shanoff and her team at the FTC are giving U.S. consumers the tools they need to fight back and reduce their chances of becoming victims of this devastating crime.