Bank One is partnering with the US Postal Inspection Service and other government entities for a new national crime prevention campaign to raise awareness among business and consumers facing the specter of identity theft.

"Today's initiative is a coming of together of a number initiatives concerning the growing problem of identity theft," said Chris Conrad, senior vice president of fraud management for Bank One.

Conrad told more than three million brochures will be mailed to individuals in areas of the country where identity theft has been most prevalent.

"Identity theft is significant, serious and a growing concern. It's something that consumers and businesses need to get educated about, and this public awareness program is designed to help," Conrad said.

The name of the identity theft public awareness program is: "Operation: Identity Crisis," a national crime prevention campaign to help the general public guard themselves against identity theft, the fastest growing crime in America.

In a separate announcement from SunNetwork 2003, Sun Microsystems said it has signed a deal with Bank One in which Sun's Solaris Web and proxy servers will be used for Bank One's "high-volume electronic payment application."

"The application, previously available only for the government sector, runs on Sun's SPARC-based servers and secure Web infrastructure consisting of the Trusted Solaris Operating System and Sun Web and Proxy Servers. It offers businesses a highly secure, reliable channel for financial transactions that can be tailored to serve each customer's individual needs," the companies said.

Bank One processes electronic payments for the U.S. Department of Treasury and runs services for the Department of Homeland Security for a total of 40 million payments representing nearly $800 billion annually.

Conrad said Bank One has a strong commitment to electronic security protections, especially in its credit card division. Conrad said VISA publishes credit card fraud statistics, and he said Bank One has fraud rates 20 percent lower than other banks surveyed.

Conrad said his company is spending a great deal to develop proprietary security technology, and it now employs more than 700 individuals in Bank One's fraud department.

On the topic of identity theft and the risks consumers face when giving out personal information to vendors over the Internet, Conrad has some warning words.

"I would say approach any Internet interaction with caution and awareness of what information is being requested to facilitate a transaction," Conrad said.

Conrad went onto say that consumers should be wary of merchants asking for social security numbers, or your mother's maiden name, as they may be gathering the clues to invading your accounts, and taking over your personal identity information.

Conrad said VISA already has its "verified by VISA program, which he says provides "another level of security for online shoppers." He went on to say that MasterCard is developing similar program, which is expected to be available in the near future.

The Federal Trade Commission in a recent report said more than 9.9 million Americans have been the victim of identity theft in the last year, and more than 27 million in the past five years. With businesses losing out more than $48 billion, and consumers being bilked to the tune of $5 billion in the past year, alone.

In related news, the U.S. Department of Justice recently published a report entitled "Identity Theft: The Crime of the New Millenium," which details prevention techniques to protect against potentially costly privacy intrusions. Some of the suggestions the Justice Department's report makes include you should "share identity information only when necessary."

Bank One on its Web site says much of identity theft information is stolen through the mail, but the company urges personal computers users to secure their data.

Credit card numbers should not be provided to anyone on the Internet unless the consumer has initiated the contact and is familiar with the entity with which they are doing business. Also, computer users should install a firewall on their personal computers to prevent unauthorized access to stored information, says Bank One.