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Remarks Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the Identity Theft Press Conference

Boston, Massachusetts
Tuesday, August 5, 2008 - 2:00 P.M. EDT

Good afternoon.

I am joined here by Michael Sullivan, United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, and Mark Sullivan – I am assured there is no relation – Director of the United States Secret Service.

Earlier today, a grand jury here in the District of Massachusetts returned an indictment charging a defendant with participating in a massive identity theft case. This indictment is related to indictments unsealed today in the Southern District of California, and other indictments brought a few months ago in the Eastern District of New York. Together, we have charged a total of 11 people, including residents of at least five different countries, with various crimes relating to the theft and resale of credit and debit card account information.

So far as we know, this is the single largest and most complex identity theft case ever charged in this country. The perpetrators are alleged to have stolen more than 40 million debit and credit card numbers. They targeted at least nine major retail corporations, including the TJX Corporation, whose stores include Marshalls and TJ Maxx; BJ's Wholesale Club; Barnes and Noble; Sports Authority; Boston Market; Office Max; Dave and Busters restaurants; DSW shoe stores; and Forever 21. They used sophisticated computer hacking techniques, breaching security systems and installing programs that gathered enormous quantities of personal financial data, which they then allegedly sold to others or used themselves. And in total, they caused widespread losses by banks, retailers, and consumers.

In just a few minutes, U.S. Attorney Mike Sullivan will talk about more of the operational details of both the conspiracy and the investigation. What I would like to do is to highlight a couple of points, and to praise the many law enforcement agencies and people that played a part in this case.

First, this case highlights our increasing vulnerability to the theft of personal information. Computer networks and the Internet are an indispensable part of the world economy. But even as they provide extraordinary opportunities for legitimate commerce and communication, they also provide extraordinary opportunities for criminals. Where criminals are able to breach computer security systems, as alleged here, they have enormous ability to cause harm. Millions of Americans have had their identities compromised each year. The annual costs to American citizens and businesses are in the billions.

Identity theft can involve a single criminal stealing the personal financial information of a single victim or, as it did here, it can involve a group of criminals stealing the credit card numbers of millions of people, many of whom may not even learn that they were victims for months or years. Identity theft victims suffer well beyond the immediate financial costs; they suffer lost confidence in their privacy and security, as well as the emotional strain and the time it can take to repair damaged financial lives and credit histories. In many cases, the effects of these crimes can be felt for years after they are committed.

Consumers must have confidence that systems for electronic payment are secure. To do that and to bring renewed attention and focus to this problem generally, in 2006 the President established an Identity Theft Task Force. The Task Force, which I chair along with the head of the Federal Trade Commission, is comprised of 17 federal departments and agencies. In a report issued last April, the Task Force provided several recommendations to reduce identity theft and to wage a more effective fight against it. These recommendations included improvement of data security in the public and private sectors, enhancement of public education and prevention programs, legislation to improve our ability to investigate and prosecute identity-related crime, and improvement of international cooperation in pursuing international identity theft operations. Since last April, we have been working to put these recommendations into effect.

The prosecution and punishment of identity thieves is a critical part of the Task Force’s strategy. And the cooperation among investigators and prosecutors throughout the United States and around the world that led to these indictments shows the promise of close coordination in tackling these problems. Cases like this send a clear message to those who might be tempted to abuse our computer networks to steal information and harm law-abiding people and businesses: If you do, we will track you down wherever you are in the world, we will arrest you, and we will send you to jail.

That leads me to my second point. This case is a reminder, if we needed one, that computer crimes are not confined within national borders. The people accused of carrying out this scheme worked out of several different countries, and targeted retail operations without regard to jurisdiction. That sort of international conspiracy is increasingly common. With the worldwide reach of the Internet, criminals can now operate from almost anywhere on the globe to steal personal information from our citizens. And when they do, there are international online marketplaces where they can peddle that stolen information.

Because identity thieves easily cooperate across borders to place the financial security of our citizens and financial institutions at risk, our response also must be coordinated. We have been working with countries around the world to identify and address technical vulnerabilities in computer networks, and to ensure that laws and procedures are adequate to deal with these kinds of crime. And we have been working closely with our international partners to crack specific cases when they take us beyond our borders. That's exactly what we did in this case. Without the close cooperation in this investigation of law enforcement agencies around the world, including those in Turkey and Germany, we would not be here today.

Finally, I would like to thank all of the investigators, agents, and prosecutors whose hard work made this case possible. These include members of the Department's Criminal Division and its Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section; the U.S. Attorneys' Offices for the District of Massachusetts, the Southern District of California and the Eastern District of New York; the Internal Revenue Service; and the U.S. Secret Service. Putting together a case of this size and complexity is no easy task, and they have my admiration and my thanks.

I would now like to turn the microphone over to U.S. Attorney Mike Sullivan.

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