WASHINGTON — The General Accounting Office issued a study Friday that concluded it is still to early to say whether the prohibitions on “pretext calling” in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act should be strengthened.

The illegal practice of obtaining private financial information by impersonating someone or using other devious means has lawmakers and consumer groups concerned, but has proven elusive to track.

The Federal Trade Commission, which is charged with enforcing the law, ran a sting operation that netted lawsuits against three information brokers on April 18. There are several nonpublic investigations pending as well. However, those are the exceptions. As of March 31, law enforcement agents in this area had taken no enforcement actions and no cases had been prosecuted.

The FTC estimates it will take three to five years before there is sufficient case history to use to study the statute’s effectiveness, the study said.

The GAO went to great lengths to determine the extent of the problem. Federal and state agencies reported that there are no data sources that would indicate the prevalence of such practices. A search of banks suspicious activity reports yielded only three references to pretext calling. An examination of consumer complaint databases led the agency to determine that pretext calling is difficult to detect and likely to be underreported.

FTC staff and privacy experts did suggest that Congress grant states enforcement authority under the statute to increase enforcement activity. Additionally, they floated the possibility of allowing victims to collect restitution from the perpetrators who stole their information. But the GAO made no recommendations.


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