Report: Consumer Protection

Policing Privacy

Michigan Law Enforcement Officers On the Challenges of Tackling Identity Theft
Released by: PIRGIM

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the country, with reported cases of identity theft nearly doubling every year.


This report summarizes interviews PIRGIM held with Michigan law enforcement officers from September 2003. These officers are on the front lines of the efforts to slow the identity theft crime wave. Their unique and often unheard perspective results from their contact with every aspect of the crime, as well as the multiple players involved-the victims, the credit lenders, the thieves and the prosecutors.


From their observations and conclusions, we hope to shed light on policies that can help prevent identity theft in the future.


The key findings from PIRGIM's survey are:


1. Identity theft is on the rise.

Every officer who responded to the question of whether the frequency of identity theft cases had changed over the past five years agreed that it had increased. Forty-seven percent of officers claimed to have witnessed a significant or tremendous increase.


2. Identity theft poses unique challenges to law enforcement officers.

Law officers reported that very few identity theft cases are solved, because of the anonymity of the crime, jurisdictional challenges, lax security measures by many companies and lack of cooperation by many companies.


3. Most law enforcement officers feel new policies would help deter identity theft.

Several recommendations were offered for new laws or policies to either stop identity theft from occurring or make identity thieves easier to track and prosecute:


Require credit card companies and other credit grantors to tighten security before granting credit;

Ensure lenders and other companies cooperate with police investigations;

Strengthen privacy laws to prohibit companies from selling customers personal information.

Criminalizing identity theft is not enough. Despite Congressional action to criminalize identity theft in 1998, with the state of Michigan following suit in 2000, identity theft complaints continue to grow.


These findings may provide additional guidance to policymakers seeking to provide new legal and administrative tools to those whose job it is to tackle this rapidly growing crime.

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