An alliance of businesses, colleges and federal crime fighters will combine their expertise at a new research center that will study the problems of identity theft and fraud.

Founding partners of the Center for Identity Management and Information Protection include LexisNexis Inc. and IBM Corp., the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI. Participating schools include Carnegie Mellon University, Indiana University and Syracuse University.

The center will be established in upstate New York at Utica College, which pioneered the nation's first curriculum on white-collar crime in 1988.

Research will focus on critical issues in identity management, information sharing policy and data protection, said Dr. Gary Gordon, a Utica College professor and expert in cybercrime and identity fraud.

"The first thing we have to do is better understand the size and scope of the issue," Gordon said.

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Officials were to announce creation of the center Wednesday in Washington, D.C. and in Utica.

"We all know it's a major problem in society, and a potentially dangerous problem. It cuts across every aspect — commerce, national security, government, our private lives. There is a tremendous need, though, for more research," Gordon said.

One recent survey reported that there have been more than 28 million new identity theft victims since 2003, but Gordon said it's likely that just as many incidents go undetected or unreported.

In May, up to 26.5 million people were exposed to possible identity theft and fraud when a Veterans Affairs Department data analyst's laptop computer was stolen from his home in suburban Maryland. The laptop contained names, birth dates and Social Security numbers.

So far, there have been no identity crimes linked to the VA theft, but lesser incidents have become commonplace.

"Identity theft has become rampant in our society and to better combat the problem we need bold, new and innovative solutions," said U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Science Committee.

Tracy Mitrano, director of information technology policy at Cornell University, applauded the center's creation.

"We really don't have a coherent legal framework for privacy in this country," she said. "We have piecemeal laws that were adopted for particular reasons. We need a center like this to help us learn more about what people are doing with information ... and how it relates to our laws, ethics and values."

Secret Service Deputy Director Brian Nagel agreed that it will require a comprehensive examination of the problem for officials to improve prevention and detection as well as develop technological solutions and new policies.

"This will begin a dialogue and interaction on how to do better, on what tools are needed, on how we can improve policy," he said.

One of the initial research projects at the center will examine current and emerging criminal groups that perpetrate identity fraud and theft, with a focus on their methods of operation. It also will look at developing stronger identity authentication systems.

The center will share its research through training sessions, symposiums, publications and its Web site.