WASHINGTON, D.C. - (March 23, 2004) - Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) testified in support of his bill today, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act (H.R. 1731), during a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing. Schiff's legislation will strengthen the ability to prosecute criminals who steal identities in order to commit felonies.
Schiff offered the following testimony in support of the bill:
"I would like to thank the distinguished Chairman, Mr. Coble, for holding this hearing on the serious issue of identity theft, and particularly on H.R. 1731, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act - legislation that I joined Mr. John Carter (R-TX) in introducing.
"Identity theft has topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the last four years in a row. In September 2003, the FTC released a comprehensive survey concluding that a staggering 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years - costing consumers and businesses an estimated $53 billion in 2002 alone.
"Formal reports of identity theft filed with the FTC are also on the rise. Earlier this year, the FTC reported that almost 215,000 cases of identity theft were reported in 2003, a huge increase from the previous two years.
"In fact, the home states of several Members of this Subcommittee are at the top of the list of identity theft victims in 2003 with Texas ranking #4 and Florida ranking #5 nationally. My home state of California ranks #3 in the number of victims of identity theft per capita, with over 37,000 complaints reported by consumers costing over $40 million last year.
"Nationally, California cities crowd the Top 10 list of metropolitan areas with the highest per capita rates of identity theft reported. The Los Angeles/Long Beach metropolitan area, which includes my District, is particularly prone to such crimes, ranking #2 nationally with over 13,000 victims.
"Identity theft wreaks havoc on the lives of millions of hardworking Americans. A victim of identity theft usually spends a year and a half working to restore his or her identity and good name. Many of my constituents have contacted me, urging Congress to act quickly and effectively to crack down on this growing epidemic.
"All forms of identity theft are problematic; but the stealing of one's identity for the purpose of committing other serious crimes, including murder and terrorism, is an especially egregious act that demands immediate action.
"For this reason, I have joined my colleague Mr. Carter in introducing the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act - legislation that will make it easier for prosecutors to target those identity thieves who steal an identity for the purpose of committing other serious crimes. The bill will stiffen penalties to deter such offenses, and strengthen the ability of law enforcement to go after identity thieves and prove their case.
"Our legislation also makes changes to close a number of gaps identified in current federal law. Identical legislation was introduced by Senators Feinstein and Kyl, passing by unanimous consent in the Senate in January 2003. H.R. 1731 has also been endorsed by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.
"With advances in technology and the Internet, identity theft has been transformed from a basic street crime involving a stolen wallet or stolen PIN number into a sophisticated crime. Nationwide computer networks have given hackers the ability to access a large number of identities that can be quickly shared with large organized networks of criminals.
"Homeland security concerns have certainly heightened the need to protect against identity theft, given the potential ease with which a terrorist can assimilate to and move about in our society with stolen identity documents.
"One such example is the case of a Massachusetts health club worker who stole the identities of at least 21 members of the health club and provided their names and financial details to Abedelghani Meskini, an al Qaeda operative, who later plead guilty to conspiracy for his role in attempting to blow up the Los Angeles international airport in 1999 in the so-called "Millennium Plot." Meskini was able to use the stolen information to open bank accounts in New York City and Boston.
"In order to protect our homeland and to protect the good credit and reputations of hardworking Americans, the time for tough legislation to crack down on identity theft is now. I thank the Chairman for acting on this piece of legislation, and I urge my Colleagues to support this strong and important measure."
The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act was introduced, in identical form, in the U.S. Senate by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and passed the Senate in January 2003.
Specifically, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act gives prosecutors greater power in convicting and sentencing an identity thief by creating a new and separate crime of "aggravated identity theft" for any person who uses the identity of another person to commit certain felonies. The legislation provides for an additional penalty of two years for most felonies and five years for terror-related felonies. The bill also amends existing law to prohibit, not just the "transfer or use" of someone else's identity information, but also the possession of such information with the requisite criminal intent.
Rep. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, is the co-founder of the Democratic Study Group on National Security and a member of both the House Judiciary and International Relations Committees. He represents California's 29th Congressional District, including the communities of Pasadena, Alhambra, Altadena, Burbank, East Pasadena, East San Gabriel, Glendale, Monterey Park, San Gabriel, South Pasadena and Temple City.