2009-02-06 / Top Stories

New Statute To Further Protection Against Identity Theft

Assemblywoman Audrey I. Pheffer is pleased to announce that legislation she introduced to further protect New Yorkers from identity theft that was signed into law by Governor Paterson in July of 2008, has taken effect.

"As Chair of the Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee, the issue of identity theft has been a major component of my agenda to protect New Yorkers. This new statute strengthens the existing identity theft laws we worked so vigorously to enact in 2002, and continues to address issues that have arisen with the ever growing world of technology," said Pheffer.

Major components of the new law include allowing New York State residents who become victims of identity theft to seek assistance from the Consumer Protection Board's (CPB) Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation Program. The program will serve to assist victims in undoing the damage that the identity thief has done to their financial and credit history; secondly, since November 2006, consumers have been able to help prevent and mitigate identity theft by placing a "security freeze" on their credit report, which blocks most entities from gaining access to credit information. The freeze also prevents unauthorized persons from opening new accounts or borrowing money using another's personal information. The amendments contained in this statute provide consumers more accessible methods for placing and lifting a freeze, by: (1) as of January 1, 2010, requiring credit reporting agencies to place a security freeze request on a consumer's credit report within 24 hours of receiving notice and proper identification; and (2) requiring credit bureaus to "thaw" a consumer's credit file within 15 minutes of receipt of the request, which takes effect September 1, 2009; extending important confidentiality protections to public entities to prevent the intentional communication of social security numbers to the public.

The State and political subdivisions will not be able to require individuals to transmit their social security numbers over the Internet or print social security numbers on any materials that are mailed to individuals; restricting the ability of employers to use employee personal identifying information, including prohibiting employers from 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.

This section takes effect on January 1, 2010; outlawing the possession of "skimmer" devices which can obtain personal identifying information from credit cards. The statute also facilitates the prosecution of identity theft cases by permitting certain business records to be received at grand jury proceedings based upon sworn written statements.

The law authorizes the Attorney General to bring enforcement actions for violations of these restrictions, including injunctions and civil penalties of not more than $5,000 per violation.

In addition, any individual whose confidential personal information is disclosed illegally will be able to bring an action and recover actual damages or $1,000, whichever is greater; finally, enabling victims of identity theft to obtain restitution for the value of the time they spend fixing the damage that the criminal has inflicted. According to one study, identity theft victims spent 330 hours in addressing the damage caused by the identity thief. For the first time, these victims will be able to be compensated for their lost time.

"In 2006, the Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ranked New York eighth in the country for per capita identity theft complaints.

Data security is making headlines nearly every day, as highlighted by this past winter's breach involving the Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain," said Pheffer. "The heightened level of vulnerability and exposure created by the compilation of large electronic databases necessitates a greater level of risk sensitivity. Despite the magnitude of the problem, victims of identity theft and financial fraud in New York State face barriers in receiving important assistance, information, and resources. Victims of identity theft have an arduous task in repairing their financial record, credit rating, and well being. They require assistance and intervention to address their needs and navigate public and private systems. This new statute addresses these issues and further ensures that the identities of New Yorkers are protected."

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