In today's digital world, sharing and gathering information is easier than ever before. Access to personal information allows businesses to target audiences and customize sales efforts. But it also permits unwelcome invasions of personal privacy through telemarketing calls, spam, fraudulent sales pitches and other uses consumers never intended. Consumers have told us that when their personal information is packaged, bought and sold without their consent, they feel violated. Often, we don't value privacy until it's gone.
It's not just marketers who want personal information, however. Identity thieves use other people's personal information to rack up charges in their names and then disappear, leaving victims with creditors breathing down their necks and an enormous mess to clean up.
These problems have prompted many consumers to say they want more control over their personal information. At the same time, businesses say their customers want customized products and services that are possible only through the collection, analysis and use of information about them.
So what's to be done? The Attorney General’s Office has addressed the issues of privacy and identity theft in three ways: (1) by educating consumers and businesses about ways to protect privacy and guard themselves against identity fraud, (2) by taking legal action when appropriate and possible, and (3) by seeking legislative solutions.
- In November 2005, the Attorney General's Office convened the first statewide Identity Theft Summit, which brought together more than 300 leaders from the public and private sectors to discuss how to tackle what has become the fastest-growing crime in the United States. The summit's advisory panel issued a report outlining recommendations.
- In 2006, the office created LEGIT (Washington's Law Enforcement Group Against Identity Theft), which has initiated many important efforts. The group has recommended legislation and issued its an executive report in 2010.
- In late 2005, the Attorney General’s Office and AARP launched a campaign called Operation Take Charge to address the growing problem of identity theft. Additional partners included the Federal Trade Commission and Washington State Crime Prevention Association.
- The Attorney General's Office joined representatives from the AARP and the Federal Trade Commission for the first Guard It! Washington tour in summer and fall 2007, reaching roughly 1,400 people in 14 cities. The group taught consumers how to detect, deter and defend themselves against identity theft, helped business owners learn how to better protect customer and employee information and offered free shredding donated by professional data security companies statewide. Based on the success of the 2007 tour, the AGO, the FTC and the AARP expanded the campaign to additional events in 2008.