Cracking Down on Identity Theft

It sounds like something dreamed up by a science fiction writer, but the practice of identity theft--using a person's driver's license or Social Security number to gain access to his or her credit accounts--has become the country's fastest-growing method of fraud.

According to contributing writer Heather Hayes' cover story in this issue, one county sheriff said he could devote his entire department to fighting identity theft and he would not have enough resources to police it adequately. That's a frightening admission. Unless more powerful tools are put into the fight, the grifters already have won.

Of course, credit card companies deserve some of the blame. Even the more questionable credit risks among us can't come back from the mail box without a fistful of credit card come-ons. With such easy access to credit, it's little wonder that fraud is a problem.

Technologists say the solution is easy: Build a system that links driver's licenses and credit records with a bioidentifier, such as a fingerprint or retina scan. But the risk that such records themselves could be used fraudulently has made the issue unpopular.

Many believe that in this day of network-centric information, the problem of identity theft and computer fraud in general is a national one and therefore should be addressed by the federal government. Certainly, however, the answer to combating identity theft lies in a combination of technology solutions, federal policy and state and local anti-fraud practices to defeat the problem.

Elsewhere in this issue, we examine how even in this age of inexpensive desktop computers and free Internet access, the local library has remained a community portal. Contributing writer Tracy Mayor looks at library systems in three communities to find out how they have managed to juggle resources to maintain themselves as de facto Internet service providers in their communities.

Last, but not least, is some important news about our staff. I am happy to announce that John Stein Monroe has been named editor of civic.com. John has more than 10 years of experience as a journalist covering information technology and government. For the past three years, he has been senior editor of our sister publication, Federal Computer Week, where he is a mainstay of its news and technology coverage. Since civic.com's launch in 1996, John has worked closely with the civic.com staff to help shape the magazine's coverage of state and local government technology.

He will bring unusual depth and care to the pages of this magazine as we continue to cover this vital, fast-changing community.

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