The President's Identity Theft Task Force Strategic Plan to combat identity theft was released yesterday. The strategic plan is the end result of a joint effort by a 17-agency task force, co-chaired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FTC Chairman Deborah Majoras, to formulate a comprehensive and fully coordinated plan to attack this widespread and destructive crime.

The plan focuses on ways to improve the effectiveness of criminal prosecutions of identity theft; enhance data protection for sensitive consumer information maintained by the public sector, private sector, and consumers; provide more comprehensive and effective guidance for consumers and the business community; and improve recovery and assistance for consumers.

"Identity theft is a crime that goes far beyond the loss of money or property," said Gonzales. "It is a personal invasion, done in secret, that can rob innocent men and women of their good names. The strategic plan we are releasing today is part of a comprehensive effort to fight this crime, protect consumers, and help victims put their lives back together."

The Task Force was created by an executive order in May 2006, and developed 31 major recommendations for the plan. "When the President established this Task Force last May, he met with victims of identity theft," said Gonzales. "He heard their voices -- and he asked the Task Force to step up and make a difference. With this report we have made good on that promise."

In addition to the release of the Task Force's Strategic Plan, a Web site was launched today which contains the full Strategic Plan, and will eventually serve as clearinghouse for educational resources for consumers, businesses, and law enforcement on ways to prevent and detect identity theft, and help victims recover.

"Identity theft is a blight on America's privacy and security landscape," said Majoras. "Identity thieves steal consumers' time, money, and security, just as sure as they steal their identifying information, and they cost businesses enormous sums. The Strategic Plan submitted to the President provides a blueprint for increased federal prevention and protection."

The various agencies involved weighed in on this subject. "Many agencies, like the Treasury, have existing plans to combat identity theft, but this strategy promotes enhanced coordination among federal, state, and local authorities and recognizes the need for private sector participation," said Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary for Critical Infrastructure Protection and Compliance Policy D. Scott Parsons. "The report will serve as a blueprint for preventing and tracking down identity thieves and giving them due justice. More importantly, it charts a course to improve public awareness and data security, to prevent the opportunities for these crimes and to assist victims."

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which served on the task force, commented that mail remains the safest way to communicate and share information -- less than 4 percent of all identity theft can be traced to the mail according to FTC reports. Two years ago, the Postal Inspection Service created the Intelligence Sharing Initiative, a website that allows inspectors and fraud investigators representing retail and financial institutions, as well as major mailers, to share information relating to identity theft, as well as financial crimes investigations and prevention methods. This is similar to the National Identity Theft Law Enforcement Center which is recommended by the report.

Although much has been done to combat identity theft, the specific recommendations outlined in the Strategic Plan -- from broad policy changes to small steps -- are recommended to more effectively fight identity theft and reduce its incidence and damage.

Highlights of the recommendations include the following:

Gina M. Scott  |  Writer