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Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem. As noted at the beginning of this guide, some of the risk factors relating to identity theft may lie beyond the immediate influence of local police, or they may appear to lie beyond the usual scope of local police responsibility. These include
However, studies of successful interventions to reduce or prevent check and credit card fraud have shown that there are things local police can do to impact some of the above factors. It requires the development of various partnerships with local and state government agencies and with businesses.†
† See the POP Guide on Check and Card Fraud.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. In the case of identity theft, there are clear implications for businesses, other government agencies, and consumer advocacy groups.
As we have seen, identity theft is a complex crime, composed of many sub-crimes and related to many other problems. Thus,identity theft crimes fall under the authority of many different agencies, including the local police, Secret Service, Postal Inspection Service, FBI, Homeland Security, local government offices, and motor vehicle departments, to name just a few.Regional and state law enforcement agencies may have established multi-agency task forces to combat identity fraud. For example, the Financial Crimes Task Force of Southwestern Pennsylvania consists of local law enforcement, Secret Service agents, and postal inspectors. At a minimum, multi-agency task forces should include motor vehicle departments and local and state government agencies that keep public records. These multi-agency task forces fulfill an important need because, at present, the Secret Service, which has primary responsibility for investigating identity theft, does not accept cases unless there is a financial loss of over $200,000 and a multi-state fraud ring is involved. This leaves many victims in the lurch.
Thus, it will be important for you to work with local agencies to coordinate responses, so that you can participate more fully in designing and implementing preventive strategies. In addition, if local police have the first official contact with the victim, they can be an important investigative resource. FTC data indicate that the victim often knows who the offender is, or has significant amounts of information about the offender. In 2003, 62 percent of the complaints in the FTC identity theft database contained information about the offender.
However, because of the complexity—and expense—of developing multi-agency task forces, your initial efforts should focus on local factors that will help reduce or prevent identity theft and mitigate the harm done to victims. Thus, the responses listed below are divided into two sections:
It should be emphasized that these two stages are closely related, and that collecting information in one stage helps in addressing the other. For example, obtaining information in the victim assistance stage will help you develop prevention strategies.†
† The costs to the victim—in terms of both out-of-pocket expense and time spent resolving problems—are substantially smaller if the misuse is discovered quickly. No out-of-pocket expenses were incurred by 67 percent of those who discovered misuse of their personal information within five months (Federal Trade Commission 2003b). [Full Text]
Finally, since identity theft occurs in conjunction with a variety of other crimes, and given the limited resources that may be available to you, it may not be feasible to address all such crimes at once. It may be more effective to be on the lookout for rashes of specific types of identity theft, such as credit card fraud or immigration fraud (if your jurisdiction is near an entry point). Focusing on a specific crime will make it easier to collect relevant information and to measure response effectiveness.
Communicating with victims is important, as well.The most frequent complaint the Identity Theft Resource Center receives is that "the police just don't care." It is important to let victims know that the police do care and do understand. Remember that identity theft victims have been repeatedly victimized. Identity theft is an emotionally harmful crime. Furthermore, you should be aware that victims typically uncover more evidence in a case than do investigators, and more rapidly. Thus you should quickly develop a close working relationship with the victim. The steps you can take to do so are as follows:31
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