2002-10-12 / Community

Pols Laud New ID Theft Law

Pols Laud New ID Theft Law

Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer recently announced that the Governor has signed into law legislation making "identity theft" a crime in New York State. The new law criminalizes identity theft and the unlawful possession of personal identification information to commit fraud or other criminal acts and enables victims to secure restitution for their losses.

"Identity theft is a gross violation of privacy that can have disastrous consequences for unsuspecting victims," Governor Pataki said. "This legislation will protect all New Yorkers and help combat the growing problem of identity theft by establishing tough new penalties for those who engage in these outrageous activities."

The law provides new criminal penalties for the unlawful, unauthorized use of identifying information, including names, addresses, driver's license numbers, social security numbers, credit card numbers, ATM codes. Under the new law, individuals who commit the crime of identity theft would be eligible for up to seven years in prison for the most serious form of the crime.

Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee Chair Audrey Pheffer, sponsor of the bill, said, "Enacting comprehensive and meaningful legislation to combat the problem of identity theft has been a top consumer priority for the Assembly since 1998. Today's criminal is becoming more and more brazen and technologically advanced and it is imperative that our laws keep pace in order to protect consumers throughout the state."

The measure will also make victims of identity theft who incur costs or losses due to adverse information being transmitted to a credit reporting agency eligible for restitution for financial losses. In addition, victims will be able to pursue damages in a civil action.

More than 750,000 cases of identity theft occur in the United States each year, an astounding 2,000 percent increase in the last decade. Consumer advocacy groups have estimated banks have lost up $90 million annually due to identity theft and that number is projected to grow. Consumer credit reporting agencies report that they receive hundreds of calls every day from identity theft victims.

Senator Nicholas Spano said, "Unfortunately, the electronic age has spawned a new type of crime, identity theft. By stealing personal information, such as a social security number, these crooks can essentially assume another person's identity and ultimately destroy their credit history by opening credit card accounts, taking out loans, or opening bank accounts. This new law will punish identity thieves so that they cannot utilize information technology to facilitate their crimes."

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, a past president of the New York State District Attorneys Association, said, "I applaud Governor Pataki and our Legislative leadership for taking an important step forward in protecting New York's consumers. Under this new law, New York will now treat identity theft as a serious felony and will give local prosecutors the tools to go after identity thieves before they cause irreparable harm to victims and destroy their credit reputation."

In February 2002 Governor Pataki created the Fraudulent Identification Task Force to target the illegal manufacture, sale and distribution of forged or fraudulently obtained passports, licenses and other identification documents. The Task Force, which started as a pilot program in Queens, is a coalition of local, State and federal agencies.

In June 2002, the Task Force announced the arrests of 225 phony identification traffickers as a result of a 120-day investigation. The Task Force also closed six fake ID mills and seized more than 2,000 forged documents as well as scores of printers, laminators and computers. The Task Force is now targeting other counties in the state for fraudulent identification activities.

Specific provisions of the legislation signed by the Governor include:

Establishing three new crimes of identity theft from a class A misdemeanor to a class D felony. A person is guilty of a class A misdemeanor, or third degree offense, when they use another person's personal identifying information to obtain goods or services of any value or for the purpose of committing a class A misdemeanor or felony. When the value of the goods or services obtained exceeds five hundred dollars the offense is a class E felony and when the value exceeds two thousand dollars the penalty is raised to a class D felony.

Possession crimes are defined in three degrees from a class A misdemeanor to a class D felony. A person is guilty of the class A misdemeanor of unlawful possession of personal identification information when they knowingly possess the information of another person with the intent to use it for a crime. The possession offense becomes a class E felony when 250 or more items are possessed and becomes a class D felony if they supervise other individuals or have a prior conviction for the same or similar offense.

The law recognizes that identity theft crimes may be closely related to terrorism crimes. Any person guilty of a felony level offense of identity theft or possession of personal identification information who possess a terrorstic intent would face enhanced penalties.

The law also provides important protections for consumers such as allowing a court to order restitution to a person who has suffered out of pocket losses as a result of an identity theft crime, order restitution of losses that a person incurs when his credit rating is affected, and allows a consumer to bring a civil action against the perpetrator of the crime to recover for the damages done to the consumer's credit ratings.

The new law takes effect November 1, 2002.

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