Photo courtesy of gta.georgia.gov
New York Gov. David A. Paterson recently announced that the Legislature has reached an agreement on a bill that would strengthen New York's identity theft laws in a variety of ways, including the enhancement of privacy protection in the workplace and programs to aid those who have had their identities stolen.
Identity theft is the most common consumer fraud complaint and the fastest growing financial crime, affecting approximately 10 million Americans each year. In 2007, New York ranked sixth in the country in per capita identity theft complaints, according to Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
"These kinds of protections are long overdue for the citizens of New York. Increasingly, commerce is done over the internet, making sensitive information more vulnerable to theft than ever before," said Paterson. "The consequences of identity theft can be devastating and far-reaching. This bill recognizes the new risks facing consumers today and puts a number of critical safeguards in place to help the people of New York state protect their credit and their good names."
The bill will restrict the ability of employers to use an employee's personal information, including prohibitions against posting or displaying more than the last four digits of an employee's Social Security number or placing Social Security numbers in files with open access. This will provide important confidentiality safeguards for employees. Additionally, the bill outlaws the possession of "skimmer" devices -- which can obtain personal identifying information from credit cards -- under circumstances where there is intent to use the device to commit identity theft.
Victims of identity theft will now be able to seek assistance from the Consumer Protection Board's (CPB) Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation Program. The program will assist victims to undo the damage that identity theft has done to their financial and credit history. The bill enhances aspects of the security freeze law -- a 2006 law that gives consumers the choice to "freeze" or lock access to their credit file against anyone trying to open up a new account or to get new credit in their name -- and extends important confidentiality protections to public entities, preventing the intentional communication of social security numbers to the public.
Finally, the bill enables victims of identity theft to obtain restitution equal to the value of the time they spend fixing the damage of identity theft. According to one study, it takes identity theft victims as much as 330 hours to fix the damage done by identity theft. For the first time, these victims will be able to be compensated for their lost time. Governor Paterson noted that victims of identity theft face an arduous task in repairing their financial records, credit rating, and wellbeing. They require assistance and intervention to address their particular needs and navigate various public and private systems.
Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said: "I want to commend Senator Charles Fuschillo for his leadership in addressing the crime of identity theft and for working with the Governor and Assembly to get real results, not only to protect consumers but to help them get more assistance when they are victimized. Identity theft is a very personal and damaging crime and this comprehensive legislation will help strengthen our laws to stop criminals from stealing people's information and help victims restore their credit."