Identity theft rates have been rising for years, and consumers have grown concerned about their security. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 7 percent of people age 16 or older were victims of identity theft in 2014, and about 14 percent of those individuals experienced out-of-pocket losses of $1 or more.
This crime is becoming increasingly common because our digital economy has opened up new avenues for ambitious thieves. While mail theft remains a problem, consumers also have to worry about the security of their online accounts, particularly those related to finances. They need to pay attention to how their electronic medical records are being used, and who can access them.
Even then, their financial security may not be entirely within their control. A vigilant taxpayer may file their annual return on time, only to discover that a thief has already claimed their refund. A major data breach at a large retailer can compromise information belonging to millions.
Recently, Congress has taken up the mantle of identity theft protection. Two new bills are working their way through the Senate that could make a difference.
Senators advance new ID theft bills
The Senate Finance Committee approved two bills that are meant to prevent identity and tax fraud on April 20, getting one step closer to enacting bipartisan reform into law.
According to a report by The Hill, one bill will make it easier for the IRS to recruit the information technology personnel it needs to protect itself and taxpayers from theft.
The IRS has struggled with identity theft issues recently. The agency regularly pays out billions in refunds to thieves who are impersonating someone else. This creates tremendous difficulty for the taxpayers once they try to file. Additional trained staff could help it better serve taxpayers.
“The bill aims to put more tools in the proverbial toolbox, and, going forward, the committee will remain vigilant as we seek to identify additional measures that will allow us to detect and prevent stolen identity refund fraud,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told the news source.
The other bill will give taxpayers more time to bring forward a civil action if they have been charged with a wrongful levy. It will also require tax-exempt organizations to file electronic forms.
Consumers must protect themselves
While these two bills should be helpful, no one should assume that they will solve the problem of identity theft overnight. Unfortunately, this crime is far too complex and widespread. And it’s still not clear what final form these bills will take once they reach the floor. The House Ways and Means Committee is considering its own bills, which will tackle similar issues but in different ways. All of the different versions of these bills will need to be reconciled.
Until then, in order to truly get a handle on the problem of identity theft, private businesses will need to invest more resources into their security systems to defend against attacks.
But, above all, ordinary consumers need tools that will help them respond to potential breaches and secure their personal information.
An identity theft protection service like Identity Guard can help. By monitoring credit files, Social Security Numbers and public records, our service can alert you to certain activity in your or your child’s credit file that could indicate fraud. If there’s a problem, you’ll be able to address it before you suffer additional financial losses.