STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - October 16, 2007)
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Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I seek recognition today to discuss the Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act of 2007, which I am introducing with Senator Leahy.
In 2006, some 8.4 million Americans became victims to identity theft. Victims are often left with a bad credit report and must spend months and even years regaining their financial health. In the meantime, victims have difficulty getting credit, obtaining loans, renting apartments, and even getting hired. On a national level, experts estimate that identity theft costs the U.S. economy $49.3 billion last year and costs each victim an average of $617.
Identity thieves frequently acquire a person's existing credit account information and then purchase products and services using either the actual credit card or simply the account number and expiration date. They also use Social Security numbers and other identifying information to open new accounts in a person's name. Identity thieves frequently obtain both existing account information and the information needed to open new accounts electronically--either by gaining unauthorized access to a computer or by fraudulently inducing victims to provide such information.
The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act will provide Federal prosecutors with new tools to combat identity theft.
First, the bill will expand Federal computer fraud statutes to cover business organizations. Identity thieves frequently impersonate businesses in order to steal sensitive personal information from consumers. However, current law only provides for prosecution of identity theft perpetrated against an individual.
Under the bill, prosecutors will be able to go after identity thieves even when the computer they use to steal information is located in the same State as the victim's computer. Under current law, Federal courts only have jurisdiction if the thief uses an interstate communication to access the victim's computer.
The bill will make it a crime to threaten to steal or release information from a computer. Under current law, prosecutors can only bring extortion charges against those who threaten to shut down or damage a computer.
The bill will make it a crime to use malicious ``spyware'' to damage a computer, regardless of the amount of damage. Under current law, damage to a victim's computer must exceed $5,000 before a prosecutor can bring charges.
The bill will also increase the penalties Federal prosecutors can seek for identity theft.
The bill will enable prosecutors to seek enhanced penalties where a violation of the Federal computer fraud statutes includes conspiracy.
Prosecutors also will be able to seek enhanced penalties where a violation of the Federal computer fraud statutes involves passing counterfeit securities, mail theft, and tax fraud.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the bill will enable Federal prosecutors to seek restitution for the time and money that victims spend restoring their credit. The impact of identity theft is not limited to direct financial loss. Victims frequently spend significant amounts of time fixing or monitoring credit reports and disputing charges with individual creditors. The Federal Trade Commission has reported that victims spend an average of 30 hours trying to resolve identity theft-related issues with banks, credit agencies, and other institutions. According to the FTC, a total of 297 million hours were expended in 1 year by victims trying to deal with the impact of identity theft.
The Criminal Code currently allows prosecutors to seek restitution for the direct financial losses that victims experience. However, the code does not expressly permit prosecutors to obtain restitution for the time and money victims spend resolving the problems that arise as a result of identity theft. The Identity Theft Enforcement and Restitution Act of 2007 will allow prosecutors to seek restitution from a criminal defendant for the time and resources victims spend trying to repair their credit. The bill will require judges to determine the amount of time reasonably spent and the value of the victim's time.
Many of these provisions were included in the recommendations of the President's Identity Theft Task Force. These changes were recommended by the agency responsible for prosecuting identity theft, the Justice Department. I expect broad bipartisan support for this bill, and I urge my colleagues to support it.