The Federal Trade Commission on Wednesday, in testimony before Congress, detailed the agency’s education and outreach efforts against identity theft and Internal Revenue Service imposter scams.

FTC Commissioner Julie Brill told lawmakers that the FTC has taken action and obtained settlements in more than 50 cases against businesses charged with failing to provide reasonable protections for consumer data or misrepresenting the protections they provide.

Brill testified on behalf of the FTC before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. Her testimony outlined the challenges posed by tax identity theft, which affects older Americans and people with disabilities in particular. The FTC has hosted Tax Identity Theft Awareness Week for the past two years to raise awareness about the issue.

Brill's testimony also identified government imposter scams, especially IRS imposter scams, as another growing fraud. Government imposter scams have dramatically jumped in the past few years. The FTC received more than 52,000 IRS imposter scam complaints last year and received nearly 22,000 in the first three months of this year.

Tax-related identity theft was the most common form of identity theft reported to the FTC in 2014, while the number of complaints from consumers about criminals impersonating IRS officials was nearly 24 times higher than in 2013, according to FTC statistics released earlier this year.

IRS impersonation scams often consist of someone contacting a consumer by phone, claiming that they are an IRS agent and that the consumer owes the IRS money. The caller suggests that consumers pay by wiring money or loading money on a pre-paid debit card.

Tax identity theft typically happens when a scammer files a fraudulent tax return using a consumer’s Social Security number to receive a refund. 2014 marks the fifth consecutive year in which tax-related identity theft topped the list of identity theft complaints, with tax identity theft accounting for nearly a third of all identity theft complaints to the FTC. 

"Millions of consumers are victimized by identity thieves each year, collectively costing consumers and businesses billions of dollars and countless hours to repair the damage," the written testimony states. According to testimony, in 2012, Bureau of Justice statistics estimated that 16.6 million consumers were victims of identity theft.

The FTC manages the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, a secure online database of identity theft-related complaints that is available to more than 2,000 American and Canadian federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Brill's testimony outlined how the FTC uses these complaints to help target the FTC's education efforts by providing consumers with the knowledge and tools to protect themselves from identity theft.

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