Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America and its effects are staggering. Not only has identity theft left over ten million victims at an average cost of $6,383 per incident, it has also made many people leery of shopping on the Internet. One in three adults during the Christmas season did not shop online for fear of identity theft.

In an attempt to address this growing problem, some countries have begun to use smart cards that have the capability of storing much more information than a current driver’s license, credit card or bus pass. The U.S. government is also taking steps towards making our identity cards “smarter.” Although new technology can facilitate a thief’s ability to steal identities, it also provides law enforcement with an effective tool for combating identity theft.

In addition to improving U.S. identification, there are a number of other possibilities the U.S. government should pursue in order to effectively address the identity theft problem. For starters, the Federal government’s reliance on Social Security numbers is one possible area for change. The Internal Revenue Service requires every citizen child to have a social security number in order for the parent to claim a tax exemption for the child as a dependant. After the government initiated this requirement, the public and private sectors began using social security numbers as a unique personal identifier. Now, some states even require an individual to produce a social security number before obtaining a hunting license.

While the Federal government acknowledges the need to lessen the reliance on social security numbers, it has not taken proactive steps to do so. If the U.S. government is truly serious about fighting identity theft, then it should stop forcing newborns to obtain social security numbers. Additionally, it should shift its focus from imposing stricter punishments for offenders to alloting more manpower and resources to fight identity theft and to implementing new technologies. Is it so impossible to imagine a world where the Federal government does not assign a number to every newborn?

Seth Erickson

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