IDENTITY THEFT PENALTY ENHANCEMENT ACT -- (House of Representatives - June 23, 2004)
Mr. SENSENBRENNER. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (H.R. 1731) to amend title 18, United States Code, to establish penalties for aggravated identity theft, and for other purposes, as amended.
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Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this time.
I also want to thank the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Sensenbrenner), our distinguished chairman; and the gentleman from North Carolina (Mr. Coble), subcommittee Chair, for moving this legislation through the Committee on the Judiciary and onto the House floor.
I joined the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Carter) in introducing this legislation in response to the plague of identity theft that has beset the country. Identity theft has now topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the FTC for the last 4 years in a row, impacting millions of Americans and costing consumers and businesses billions of dollars.
My home State of California ranks number three in the number of victims of identity theft per capita with over 37,000 complaints reported by consumers, costing over $40 million just last year alone. Nationally, California cities crowd the top ten 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 and ranks number two nationally with over 13,000 victims.
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. Many of my colleagues have heard similar urging that Congress act quickly and effectively to crack down on this growing epidemic. For this reason, I joined the gentleman from Texas (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 of last year. H.R. 1731 has also been endorsed by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.
I am very mindful of the reservations that my colleague, the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) has expressed about mandatory minimums in general, and I share those concerns about the practice of mandatory minimums. I think my difference with the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) comes in where there are appropriate exceptions. In this case, I believe there is an appropriate exception, and I believe the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) believes this is not an appropriate case for an exception. But let me outline why I believe that this is an appropriate exceptional case.
First, we have the epidemic nature of the crime, which rather than abate has merely grown and proliferated over the last several years.
Second, because the enhanced penalties are reserved for aggravated identity theft, they must be committed in connection with other serious felony offenses. But since the underlying offense and the identity theft are generally merged for sentencing purposes, prosecutors have little incentive to charge identity theft. This current sentencing structure and practice is flawed because it does not reflect the impact on the victim, in addition to the impact and loss to the financial institution.
I was pleased to work with the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Carter) as well as sponsors from the other body in order to make some additional improvements to the bill in committee. These improvements respond to specific concerns that were raised by the Social Security Administration. In addition, we respond to the ever-growing problem of insider theft.
A peer review study will be coming out later this year that will show perhaps as much as 70 percent of identity theft cases are facilitated through the workplace.
Homeland security concerns have certainly highlighted the need to protect against identity theft, given the potential ease with which a terrorist can assimilate to or move about in our society with stolen identity documents.
In order total protect the good credit of hard-working Americans and their reputations and to protect the homeland, the time to strengthen the law is now. I also support the effort of the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott) to increase the resources for the enforcement of these laws. Merely increasing the deterrent value is not enough if the resources lag behind.
I want to thank my colleague for all his efforts along those lines, and again want to thank my colleagues, Mr. Speaker, for acting on this piece of legislation, and urge their support.