Last month, people who had accounts with Bank of America and Wachovia Corp. learned there was a breach of security in which account information was given out illegally, possibly compromising up to a million people's credit.
Identity thieves obtain a piece of personal information such as a Social Security number or credit card number, and use it to run up credit card balances, write bad checks, take out loans, and ultimately, ruin the victim's credit rating. The people that had information taken illegally run the risk of this scenario happening to them.
The New York State Senate is holding public hearings on legislation to address the rapidly increasing crime of identity theft, and related issues such as computer spyware and protection of personal and financial information.
Identity theft legislation introduced in the Senate includes measures that would enable consumers to place "security freezes" on their credit reports if they suspect they are victims of identity theft; limit the use of Social Security numbers; require public notification of security breaches relating to personal data; give consumers greater control over their financial information; authorize insurers to sell identity theft insurance; and increase the penalties for identity theft.
Other major security breaches that occurred earlier this year included:
* In mid-February, ChoicePoint, the nation’s largest data broker, revealed that thieves had gained access to 145,000 consumer profiles. To date, at least 750 people were defrauded and California investigators estimate that tens of thousands of others may have been as well.
* Data broker Lexis Nexis revealed that the personal data of more than 300,000 people may have been stolen - nearly 10 times the amount the company originally disclosed. The compromised database, containing Social Security numbers and addresses, had been fraudulently breached 59 times using stolen passwords.
The Senate recently passed a bill I am sponsoring to simplify the grand jury process in order to reduce the burden on victims of credit card fraud. Currently, a person whose credit card is stolen may submit a written statement to a grand jury, but a person whose credit card number is stolen must physically appear to testify against the identity thief. My bill would update the law and allow all such victims to submit written statements to a grand jury instead of appearing in person. This bill reflects the fact that the nature of credit card fraud has changed over the years, and that criminals can steal by using a person's card number without having stolen the card itself.
The Senate Majority has a strong record on identity theft, which was the focus of the Senate Majority Task Force on Privacy Invasion. In 2002, a recommendation of the task force was enacted into law (Chap. 619) that established three news crimes of identity theft, ranging from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class D felony; and established criminal penalties for stealing personal identification information with the intent to commit identity theft.
It is not easy for a victim of identity theft to clear their name and reputation. It often involves many years of diligent work. People should check their credit reports on a regular basis so they can catch mistakes and fraud before the credit rating is ruined. Beginning in September, New York residents will be able to annually get a free copy of their credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies. After September 1st, you can call toll-free (877) 322-8228, or visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp, to order your free credit reports through this centralized service.