Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (9th Senate District) recently announced a comprehensive new state law to better protect New Yorkers against identity theft. The law will provide greater identity theft protections in the workplace, aid those who have already had their identities stolen and give consumers the ability to lift a security freeze within 15 minutes to allow them to have greater access to their credit reports, among many other provisions.
“Identity theft is a growing problem that places unknowing victims in a position of hardship,” said Senator Skelos. “This new law addresses a number of important issues related to the growing crime of identity theft, and allows victims for the first time to be compensated for the numerous hours spent fixing the damage.”
Identity theft is the most common consumer fraud complaint and the fastest growing financial crime, affecting approximately 10 million Americans each year. In 2007, New York ranked sixth in the country in per capita identity theft complaints, according to Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The new law will restrict the ability of employers to use an employee's personal information, including prohibitions against posting or displaying more than the last four digits of an employee's social security number or placing social security numbers in files with open access. This will provide important confidentiality safeguards for employees.
The law also improves the current procedures utilized to obtain and lift a credit freeze through the consumer credit reporting agencies. Under the new law, consumers using secure electronic means or a telephone, can have the freeze on their credit report lifted within 15 minutes. Currently, consumers must wait three days to lift a security freeze on their credit.
Additionally, the new law outlaws the possession of "skimmer" devices, which allow an identity thief to obtain personal identifying information from credit cards, if there is intent to use the device to commit identity theft. It also enables victims of identity theft to obtain restitution equal to the value of the time they spend fixing the damage of identity theft. According to one study, it takes identity theft victims as much as 330 hours to fix the damage done by identity theft. For the first time, these victims will be able to be compensated for their lost time.
Victims of identity theft will be able to seek assistance from the Consumer Protection Board’s (CPB) Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation Program under the new law. The program will assist victims to undo the damage that identity theft has done to their financial and credit history.
Most of the provisions of the new law will go into effect in January 2009. The provision outlawing skimmer devices goes into effect on November 1st.