Government Shutdown Leaves Americans More Vulnerable to Identity Theft, Scams

ID Theft / Scams Vulnerability

U.S. citizens are more vulnerable to the effects of identity theft and scams as a result of the ongoing government shutdown.

The two primary websites created by the government as resources for victims of identity theft, IdentityTheft.gov and FTC.gov/complaint, are currently offline as part of the partial shutdown of the Federal Trade Commission. This effectively leaves victims unable to file reports or get documentation of their stolen identities, which is typically a first step for mitigating damage to credit and financial accounts.  

Also affected by the shutdown is the Internal Revenue Service, which sees identity theft-related tax fraud peak from January to April. With 87.5% of its workforce currently furloughed, the ability to process identity theft claims via a form 14039 are unable to be processed, and people who suspect their identities have been stolen to file a fraudulent tax return are largely, if not entirely unable to get assistance.

Government websites will also become a more attractive avenue for scams and phishing. Several agencies have expired website security certificates, and are unable to renew them. These certificates help verify the identity of the government site and to encrypt communication between agencies and site visitors. Websites with outdated or expired certificates can be cloned as part of phishing campaigns, and potentially sensitive personal information transmitted that way is susceptible to interception.

The full impact of the shutdown on identity theft and cybersecurity will be hard to accurately gauge for some time after it ends. For now, people who suspect they have been targeted by identity thieves should contact the Identity Theft Resource Center, and exercise as much caution as possible with their finances and when visiting government websites.