Members of the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee focused on one of the fastest-growing crimes in the state when they heard recently about two plans to fight identity theft.
The Federal Trade Commission has estimated as many as 10 million Americans have been victimized by identity thieves, resulting in nearly $48 billion in losses to businesses and $5 billion in losses to individuals.
Criminals who steal personal identification information can use it to create fraudulent credit card accounts and commit other crimes. Victims of identity theft often don't realize their personal information has been stolen until collection agencies start calling to try to collect on the debt run up by identity thieves.
It sometimes takes years for victims of identity theft to straighten out the financial mess left behind.
"If you’ve known people whose identity has been stolen, it’s a horrendous problem to straighten out," said Rep. Gross Lindsay, D-Henderson, co-chair of the Judiciary Committee.
One particular issue lawmakers zeroed in on concerns the growing number of cases in which identity thieves obtain information from computer databases maintained by businesses.
"In some cases the databases have been hacked by thieves and the information stolen," said Todd Leatherman, director of the state Attorney General's Consumer Protection Office. "In some cases the thieves have posed as legitimate businesses and purchased data from an information company. In some cases the information is simply made available as a matter of course. In other cases the information has been released or lost through apparent negligence."
To fight these problems, Lindsay is proposing legislation that would require any business in the state to notify Kentuckians of any breach of their computer security systems that allows their personal information to be stolen. The legislation, Bill Request 153, would impose the same requirements on state and local government entities that maintain personal information on computer databases.
The legislation would require that potential identification theft victims be notified as quickly as possibly so that they can take steps to help minimize any damage done by identity thieves.
Lawmakers also looked at a more wide-ranging proposal from the attorney general's office that resulted from the work of a task force that has studied identity theft.
In addition to a proposal similar to Lindsay's, the attorney general's plan recommends restricting the ability of businesses to use and disseminate Social Security numbers.
"Social Security numbers are a key to people's financial identity," Leatherman said.
The attorney general's proposal also would ensure that victims of identity theft receive a police report after reporting the crime. A police report is sometimes required by creditors before they acknowledge that a debt is the result of identity theft, Leatherman said.
State lawmakers passed legislation in 2000 to make identification theft and trafficking in stolen identities a felony. Despite cracking down on the crime, it continues to be a significant problem for law enforcement officials in Kentucky and across the nation.
The Federal Trade Commission has estimated as many as 10 million Americans have been victimized by identity thieves, resulting in nearly $48 billion in losses to businesses and $5 billion in losses to individuals, Leatherman said.
Sen. Jerry Rhoads, D-Madisonville, asked Leatherman about the services provided by the attorney general's office when they are contacted by a victim of identity theft.
"We try to work with them and counsel them. We advise them on what their rights are. We give them a victim's identity kit that also helps them," Leatherman said. "We try to hold their hand through the process and tell them who they need to contact. We've got people who handle those calls every day."
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