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Romney Cracks Down on Identity Theft and Fraud

Location: Boston, MA


Files legislation making it harder for terrorists and identity thieves to operate

Governor Mitt Romney today proposed revamping the state's outdated identify theft and fraud laws, filing legislation to thwart criminals from securing counterfeit documents and boosting protections for individuals who are the victims of identity theft or fraud.

"Identity theft is a terrible crime that can take many years and much frustration to correct," said Romney. "I want to make sure we have the right tools in place to not only deter, but apprehend thieves and potential terrorists before they leave their victims in a wake of confusion and grief."

Romney said that identity theft poses a serious threat to national security. A false identity could enable a terrorist to enter the country, board an airplane, obtain weapons or gain access to facilities that are part of our critical infrastructure. Identity theft is a principal means to commit other crimes such as credit card theft and money laundering that facilitate terrorist operations. Information included in Al Qaeda training manuals detailed the importance to terrorists of obtaining fraudulent identification documents.

Romney's legislation is a critical part of the state's comprehensive homeland security strategy. To counter the identity theft trend and its effects, Romney's bill proposes new felonies and eliminates gaps in existing laws to make the investigation and prosecution of theses crimes easier.

New specific felonies for identity theft include:

· Using or conspiring to use personal identifying information about another person or deceased person with the intent to defraud or commit any crime;

· Possession of a false identification document;

· Providing a false identification document to a police officer;

· Using the seal of a department or agency without authority;

· Concealing material facts to obtain a valid identification card;

· Possession of document-making implements with the intent to use such implements for the production of false documents; and

· Possession of five or more false identification documents, with the intent to use or transfer them unlawfully.

The first four felonies listed carry a possible punishment of up to five years in state prison or two-and-a-half years in a house of correction, a fine of up to $5000, or both. The final three felonies carry a punishment of up to 10 years in state prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both. Romney's legislation also creates an enhanced penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $30,000 for anyone convicted of one of these crimes in connection with a major felony such as murder or threatening to kill with a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon.

"Identity theft is a serious crime with serious consequences for its victims, for our economy, and for the safety of the American people," said Public Safety Secretary Edward A. Flynn. "The punishment should match the crime."

Romney said identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity thieves victimized 27 million individuals and businesses between 1998 and 2003. In 2004, nearly 4,000 Massachusetts consumers filed identity theft complaints with the FTC. Consumers and businesses combined continue to lose tens of billions of dollars each year from the illegal practice. In addition to the financial costs, identity theft frequently imposes significant emotional burdens on victims who must struggle to set their financial history straight.

To expand the protections offered to consumers, Romney's proposal features the following consumer protection provisions:

· Requires companies doing business with Massachusetts consumers to promptly notify their customers if they suspect an unauthorized individual has acquired personal information through their systems or databases;

· Allows consumers to flag or freeze access to their credit reports from credit-reporting bureaus if they suspect their personal information has been stolen.

"The sooner we spot identity theft, the greater chance we will have to reduce the damage that can occur. This bill gives consumers a key tool to block access to their credit histories and recognizes that businesses must make protecting their customers' vital information the highest priority," said Consumer Affairs Director Beth Lindstrom.

Romney's bill also contains a forfeiture provision that would give law enforcement officers and prosecutors additional resources to address identity theft and related homeland security threats. Items such as computers and document production equipment seized in connection with prosecutions could be used to defray the costs of investigations and to provide restitution to victims.

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