The New Identity Theft Law – Will it Work?

Identity theft is now a pandemic, and a scourge for its victims. Is the federal government finally ready to fight back? The Identity Theft and Restitution Act of 2008 was signed into law by President Bush. The new law is supposed to make it easier for the government to convict those charged with pursuing computerized identity theft. Supporters tout this legislation as allowing federal prosecutors to be more aggressive in cracking down on identity theft cyber crime. But will it work to protect millions of future victims? The new law provides for the following:

1. Discarding the requirement that damage to a victim’s computer exceed $5,000 over a one year period before charges can be asserted for unauthorized access to a computer.

2. Eliminating the interstate jurisdictional requirement, thus allowing prosecution of those who steal personal information from a computer, even when the victim’s computer is located in the same state as the thief’s computer.

3. Allowing victims of identity theft to seek restitution for an amount equal to the value of the time reasonably spent to fix their problems.

4. Adding the charge of a conspiracy to commit cyber crimes. (The prior law only allowed for charges related to the actual crime, and made no provisions for conspiracy to commit the underlying charge.)

5. Adding the remedies of civil and criminal forfeiture to better allow federal prosecutors to combat cyber crime. Individuals found guilty of violating the act can be forced to forfeit both property used in commission of the cyber crime, as well as property obtained from any proceeds gained from the cyber crime.

6. Making it a felony to electronically damage ten or more computers no matter the value of the damage caused.

7. Making it a crime to threaten to steal or release information from an individual’s computer. (Prior law only permitted the prosecution of those who seek to extort companies or government agencies by explicitly threatening to shut down or damage a computer.)

It is intended that the new law will allow federal prosecutors to be much more aggressive in prosecuting identity theft criminals. Elimination of both the $5,000 damage requirement and the interstate jurisdictional requirement should make it easier for prosecutors to bring charges. But will it really help? The federal government has tried to keep up with identity theft for years with few results. If the feds are truly interested in stamping out the pandemic, it is with the enforcement of the laws, and not just new laws, that will turn the tide. Still, there are encouraging signs that a wide ranging effort is being made. The IRS is helping out by allowing in this next year all but the last four digits of taxpayer ID numbers to be blocked out on 1099’s, W-2s, and other informational returns. There is privacy in that move.

Police Caught Breaking the Law and Brought to Justice

Surveillance cameras have captured criminals in the act of breaking the law many times. These same camera systems can also be used to make certain that the police are doing their job correctly and being honest in their testimonials. This story is about how a good security camera system help keep two officers and a third man from getting away with robbery.

This story takes place in a tiny corner bar on the east coast of the united states. The small bar has been around for several years and is the regular hangout of the local police officers. Around four AM on a Tuesday morning, two uniformed officers were to an auto garage near the bar because an alarm had been triggered. It was a false alarm, so the two policemen made their way over to the bar where they and they’re brethren often hung out.

While walking around the bar the two officers discovered that doors that led to the bar’s basement were unlocked. So they decided to go in and make themselves at home, hanging out in the empty bar for about forty minutes. During this time, the uniformed officers were joined by a third man in civilian clothing and all three of the men spent some time watching TV and even drinking beer. One of the law enforcement officers eventually made his way over to the small room where the safe was located. Once the cop was in the room with the safe, he wasted little time getting the safe open and pulling a handful of cash out and put it in his pocket. It seems that only the one policemen was involved in taking the money, soon after the theft they all left the premises.

Luckily the cops’ actions were being recorded by the bar’s security cameras from the time they started walking around the bar. “It’s cut and dry,” a source who viewed the footage said. “There’s no question what he did.” Once the video footage was brought to light, an internal affairs investigation was initiated.

Without the aid of the security cameras, this crime would surely have gone in to the unsolved cases file. The people who’ve seen the footage say that the evidence is concrete, so a successful prosecution seems very likely. The wad of cash that was stolen was substantially less then the investment in the camera system.

Seek Help – Call the Identity Theft Hotline

On November 1, 1999, Federal Trade Commission started the Identity Theft Hotline. This is a toll-free number that victims of identity theft can call to report their case and get assistance on how to start combating the crime. On the eight month of its operation, the hotline has been receiving an average of more than 1000 calls every week.

Forty per cent of those calls were inquiries from ordinary consumers concerned on their safety. They proactively sought advice on how they can protect themselves. The counselors have provided safety measures and steps on how these consumers could minimize the risks, particularly on how to avoid credit card fraud, the number one id theft crime in the United States. They also gave advice on how to maintain financial privacy.

The remaining sixty per cent, or generally, the bulk of calls received, were from those who have already become victims of the crime. They were given steps on how to prevent further harm to their credit records. They were also given instructions and contact numbers of agencies where they can obtain copies of their credit records, how to request for fraud alert, and how to request for closure of erroneously created bank accounts. Victims were also educated on their rights under Fair Credit Reporting Act, and how they can use it to correct erroneous entries on their financial records. They were also educated on their rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act and the Truth in Lending Act, which limits their responsibility for unauthorized credit card charges. Victims are also educated on their rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which specifically states the practices that collectors are allowed and not allowed to do. Victims were also advised to notify law enforcement agencies, mainly because police reports usually help victims in proving that they are the real victims and not the impersonators. And most importantly, victims were being referred to proper agencies if the id theft crimes they have experienced fall under a more specific agency’s jurisdiction. For example, if a victim would report that somebody is using his or her social security number, the victim will be referred to the specific identity theft or fraud hotline of the Social Security Administration.

These, so far, are the assistance that victims and concerned citizens could get by calling the FTC Identity Theft Hotline. The counselors are specially trained to handle identity theft issues and would be the best people to answer queries on this crime.

Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft Today

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. It occurs when someone steals your personal information, which can include your social security, driver’s license and credit card numbers and so on. Entities that have had their databases compromised include the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and University of Texas School of Business. The common fear among victims is that these thieves will use their personal data to access bank accounts, open new credit cards, obtain long distance calling accounts or take out loans.

In an effort to help fight identity theft, Congress added new sections to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) when it passed the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA). Privacy, limits on information sharing, consumer rights to disclosure and accuracy are all addressed.

An Overview of FACTA:

o To self-monitor their credit history, consumers may obtain free copies of their credit report annually at http://www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 877-322-8228.
o Businesses must leave off all but the final five digits of a credit card number on printed store receipts.
o Employers must destroy all information obtained from a consumer credit report before discarding it.
o Consumers who suspect they are the victims of identity theft need only to notify one of the three credit reporting services (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) to initiate a nationwide fraud alert.
o Mortgage lenders must provide the credit score they use to determine a loan’s interest rate, regardless of loan approval.
o Companies must provide training for their employees and document when it was completed. It should outline what the consequences are for any violations.

Reasonable measures of destruction of personal information include:
o Burning, shredding or pulverizing documents so they become impossible to put back together or read.
o Erasing electronic files that contain any consumer reports so they cannot be recovered.

After reviewing company practices to ensure that they are designed to reasonably protect personal information, some companies are hiring outside firms that specialize in destroying personal records.

Penalties include:

o Civil liability – An employee can recover actual damages sustained if their identity is stolen from an employer. Or an employer could be liable for statutory damages up to $1,000 per employee.
o Class action lawsuits – If a large number of employees are impacted, they may be able to bring class action suits and obtain punitive damages from employers.
o Federal fines – An employer can be fined up to $2,500 per violation.

The law applies to any business that collects personal information or consumer reports about customers or employees to make decisions within their business. This most definitely applies to real estate brokerage offices. All records should be stored in a secure method so as to protect all personal data relating to agents and most definitely data pertaining to clients. Look at the next step in protecting your company from potential liability.

According to the FTC, a reasonable plan for a company to safeguard personal information includes:

o Designating an employee to coordinate and be responsible for the security program.
o Identifying material internal and external risks to the security of these personal data.
o Designing and implementing reasonable safeguards to control the risks identified in the risk assessment.
o Continually evaluating and adjusting the security plan in light of the results of ongoing monitoring and testing of the program, material changes to business arrangements.
o Creating a mitigation plan that kicks in when there is a privacy or security breach and there is a need to “repair it” immediately in the eyes of customers, government regulators and management.

Private individuals can take the following safeguard steps to protect their identity from theft:

o Burn or shred any financial papers, mail or credit reports that contain personal information. Never recycle that paper.
o Call 1-888-5OPT-OUT and request that credit card companies stop sending pre-approved credit card applications. Also, ask your credit card companies to stop sending you “convenience checks”. These are sent monthly by your credit card companies and your contact to cancel these will most realistically need to be a monthly phone call until the message is implemented. In other words, keep after them until you get resolution.
o Invest in a shredder that can destroy credit cards, CDs and staples.
o Delete any e-mail that asks for personal information and instruct your employees and family members to do the same.
o Hang up on any telemarketers who ask for your personal information. Instruct your family members to do the same.
o Limit the number of credit cards you hold, both business and personal. Review your monthly statements, financial records and bank statements as soon as they arrive. The sooner you report a suspicious incident the better.
o Companies should advertise their privacy policies on their website.
o Use credit cards instead of debit cards. $50 is your maximum liability for credit cards.

Food For Thought:

Statistics show that if there is a security breach, 20% of your customers will no longer do business with you, 40% consider not doing business with you and 5% hire an attorney to sue your company.

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