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Keeping Track: Mortgage foreclosures

A sagging economy is hitting homeowners hard.

The segment of American mortgage-holders with foreclosures "in process" hit 1.23 percent last week, a 30-year high, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association of America (MBAA).

The number of foreclosures "started" (chart, below) may offer a more accurate read, says the MBAA's Phil Colling, because the process can drag on for months in some states. Foreclosure "starts" now stand at 0.4 percent. The area with the most foreclosures under way: the Northeast.

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Top risk to global business: governments

Firms looking to extend their operations abroad usually weigh the threats of terrorism, armed confict, and violent crime in countries where they hope to set up shop. Most also try to gauge the effectiveness of the governments under whose laws they will be doing business.

Even amid current global turmoil, security issues appear to be a less troubling factor overall than official bureaucracy and corruption.

That's according to an analysis this month by RiskWire, a service of the Economist Intelligence Unit, based in London. RiskWire studied 60 countries, including the US, looking at 10 categories of "operation risk" – ranging from regulatory and tax policies to political stability and security.

RiskWire assigned a rating of 0 to 100 points to each category (with 100 representing the greatest risk to profitablilty). On average, government-related risk scored 59; security risks scored 35.

RiskWire also came up with country-by-country ratings. Kazakhstan had the highest degree of government risk, followed by Honduras. Security risk was highest in Colombia and Pakistan.

Least risk of bureaucratic tangles: Singapore, United States, and Germany. Least security risk: Singapore, Hungary, and Japan.

Report: identity-theft crimes unpoliced

Local, state, and federal agencies are having a hard time cracking down on a rising wave of crimes associated with identity theft, according to a report by the US General Accounting Office.

Federal prosecutors are drawing on the Identity Theft and Assumption Act of 1998 to fight white-collar and financial crime, and the Department of Justice is finding the broad jurisdiction granted by the statute to be a useful tool, says the report. Identity theft is a component in many crimes.

Since the act was passed, 44 states have adopted similar legislation. But the GAO report notes officials at all levels are finding "various continuing challenges" to enforcing the statutes.

Because identity theft is regarded a "nontraditional crime," for example, police departments facing limited resources tend to launch relatively few investigations into reported incidents. That is also the case at federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration.

Another complication: figuring out who's on the case. In its survey of 10 states, the GAO found that the "multi- or cross-jurisdictional issues" associated with pursuing identity-theft cases further complicate investigations. It is not uncommon, for instance, for a perpetrator to steal information in one city, and then use it for fraudulent purposes in another.

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