State takes steps to fight identidy theft

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:59

    ALBANY-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was scheduled to release a package of legislative proposals this week that would strengthen laws against identify theft - one of the state's fastest growing crimes. Meanwhile, the Senate's Republican identity-theft package is expected soon and Assembly Democrats have introduced several bills this legislative session, which is scheduled to end June 23. Spitzer's measures would include creating a statewide "opt-out" list similar to the Do Not Call registry that blocks telemarketing calls. Spitzer would also allow consumers to put "security freezes" on credit lines to keep information from being released; and he would require "information brokers" to notify consumes whenever a report containing their telephone numbers, bank account information, income, medical information, driving record, and purchasing preferences is disseminated. Other measures would stiffen criminal penalties, provide consumers access to their own profiles created by companies, and help prosecutors convict computer hackers who gain access to others' computers, but don't steal or destroy anything. Aside from the privacy invasion, identity thieves can use addresses and other information to run up bills or to harass victims. "Cases of identity theft are on the rise," said Raini Baudendistel of the Crime Victims Assistance Center in Binghamton. "Currently, victims of these crimes face immense obstacles in their attempts to report and prosecute these crimes." In 2002, the Federal Trade Commission estimated 663,000 New Yorkers were victims of identity theft. New York was ranked seventh in per capita identify theft crimes by the federal Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse. "It's been said that the theft of one's identify and personal information is not a matter of `if,' but a matter of `when,"' said Spitzer, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2006. "New York state must enact reforms to strengthen consumers ability to control personal information and to facilitate the prosecution of identify theft crimes." Attorneys general, who along with the state Consumer Protection Bureau are charged with enforcing consumer protections, traditionally provide proposals to the Legislature, which then often shape and adopt those measures. "With the new technologies today, identity theft is a whole new crime," said Republican Sen. Nicholas Spano of Westchester, the sponsor of several proposals. "We have not kept up with the deterrents in the law, but the criminals have certainly taken advantage of the new opportunities that exist with new technology." The Democrat-led Assembly has at least three identity theft bills that are being considered and the Republican-led Senate has five. For example, Democratic Assemblyman Ivan Lafayette of Queens and Republican Sen. James Seward of Oneonta have proposed bills that allow people to buy insurance against losses from identity theft. All would stiffen or expand identity theft laws already on the books, including first-degree identity theft, a class D felony. But a series of crimes in the last couple months may be bolstering support for greater protections against identify theft. Spitzer said two major information brokerage companies admitted that data files of more than 455,000 consumers nationwide were breached. A major bank also confirmed backup tapes of 1.2 million accounts were missing, and federal authorities are investigating a computer hacking that could effect 8 million credit card accounts. On the Net: