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Protecting Consumers from Identity Theft


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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year. Identity thieves use identifying information such as a consumer's Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information in order to conduct such fraud as opening up new credit cards and gaining access to bank accounts. The ramifications from such crimes can be financially disastrous for citizens and can be extremely difficult to resolve.

In fact, the fear of identity theft is consistently cited as a reason many Americans are cautious about engaging in more transactions online. This is unfortunate because of the multitude of ways the Internet can help consumers shop, do business and communicate efficiently and at low cost.

Identity theft is a serious and growing threat and we must crack down hard on these technological thieves. While the United States has many federal statutes targeting identity theft, some of these laws were weakened by a recent Supreme Court case. In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that some types of identity theft are only crimes if the criminal knew the documents were those of another actual person.

The context of that case was that an illegal alien had given an employer counterfeit social security and alien registration cards containing his name but the identification numbers of other individuals. He was charged with two immigration offenses as well as aggravated identity theft. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the aggravated identity theft count explaining that the language of the relevant statutes required prosecutors to prove not only that the defendant used identity documents that were not his own, but also that the defendant knew the identity documents were those of another actual person.

With identity theft growing, we must be particularly mindful of how we can strengthen our privacy and protection laws, which is why I recently reintroduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen our federal criminal laws punishing identity theft. My legislation makes it clear that when an identity thief intentionally and unlawfully uses identity documents that are not his own, prosecutors do not need to show that the criminal also knew that the identity documents were those of another actual person.

I am pleased to report that the House Judiciary Committee has approved my legislation and it has been referred to the full House of Representatives for further consideration.

Identity theft occurs when someone intentionally and unlawfully uses identity documents that are not their own. Our federal statutes should reflect this reality. By strengthening our laws we will help prosecutors put identity thieves behind bars and will help safeguard American citizens from identity-related crimes.

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