The U.S. Department of Justice is falling short in its efforts to combat identity theft, according to a report released on Tuesday by the department's Office of the Inspector General. The report said the department isn't complying with many of the recommendations of then-President George W. Bush’s identity theft task force.
The report found that DOJ had not even assigned an official to oversee the implementing of those recommendations, released in April 2007, and that it lacked a clear overall strategy.
"This lack of a coordinator responsible for the DOJ's identity theft efforts has led to an uncoordinated, and sometimes nonexistent, approach by DOJ components to address identity theft," the report stated.
Yet Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general for the department’s Criminal Division, suggested that identity theft is the nation’s fastest growing crime when he testified before Congress in June 2009. He said more than 10 million Americans a year are affected by identity theft.
The 2007 task force had recommended gathering more comprehensive data on identity theft, designating coordinators in each of the U.S. attorney’s offices, increasing the use of interagency task forces and working groups, reevaluating the monetary thresholds for identify theft prosecutions and encouraging more state prosecutions.
The inspector general’s report criticized DOJ’s data collection, noting that the FBI stopped collecting comprehensive data on identity theft in 2007.
The report also found that DOJ’s efforts focus too much on prosecutions, as opposed to assistance to victims of identity theft.
When the inspector general requested data on the number of prosecutions, it was warned that the numbers may not be complete because of incomplete reporting from the U.S. attorney’s offices. DOJ said it charged 769 people with identity theft and convicted 432 in 2009, compared to 744 and 365, respectively, in 2007. Identity theft became a federal crime with the passage of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998.
As for the U.S. attorney’s offices, the report found that only 36 of the 94 offices managed identity theft task forces or working groups, five were in the process of forming them and 18 participated in task forces or working groups run by other agencies. Just 40 of the 94 offices had reevaluated their monetary thresholds.
The report also found that the process of notifying identity theft victims of their rights under federal law was still not widely understood within the department. There was “confusion among DOJ investigators, prosecutors, and victim specialists regarding their responsibilities to identity and notify victims.”