‘Identity theft’ bill part

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 12, 2001

of legislative 2001 agenda


Staff Writer

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Jan. 11, 2001 10 PM

Bipartisan supporters are working to pass legislation that will protect Alabama consumers.

Attorney General Bill Pryor

gave a Wednesday press conference to present details of an identity theft bill that will be introduced in the Alabama Legislative session that begins Feb. 6.

The Consumer Identity Protection Act defines certain elements of identity theft as crimes so that perpetrators can be prosecuted under Alabama law and consumers can be protected from this increasing modern-day fraud.

"We need to bring the law up-to-date to deal with criminals who are all too adept at using the Internet and other modern technology to defraud our citizens," Pryor said. "Our current law simply does not recognize or anticipate how easily someone can steal personal information and assume another identity, incurring debt in the victims’ names completely unbeknownst to them."

Currently, only the actual theft of goods or services can be prosecuted.

"Wit this new law, we could move sooner to put someone in jail as soon as they steal someone’s identity, stopping them before they wreak havoc on their victims’ finances," Pryor said.

The legislation drafted by Pryor will be sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Lowell Barron of Fyffe and Rep. Mike Hubbard of Auburn. Co-sponsors are Sen. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills and Rep. Neal Morrison of Cullman.

"I first became aware of this problem when a constituent came to my office and told me her story," Hubbard said. "Her identity had been stolen, her entire life turned upside down, her credit ruined and there was virtually no recourse for her as a victim in the state of Alabama. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation and I believe this bill treats it for what it is ­ a very serious crime ­ and also provides for restitution to the innocent victim."

Barron pointed out anyone can be a victim of identity theft.

"You may write a check, take out a loan, use a credit card, and more, without giving it a second thought," Barron said. "Then, one day, you could discover that someone has taken that information ­ information we share every day ­ and use it to steal your identity to open a credit account, make a purchase and more."

He said enacting this law will give Alabama "one of the best and strongest identity theft statutes in the nation."

He credited Pryor and staff of the Attorney General’s Office for working with the Alabama Consumer Information Privacy Study Committee formed last year to address this and other privacy issues.

Specifically, the Consumer Identity Protection Act makes it illegal to use already existing identification documents and numbers belonging to someone else to establish new documents and numbers in someone else’s name or use any such information to obtain goods and services under the other person’s identity.

A first offense in which the financial loss is less than $250, the crime will be classified as a Class A misdemeanor which is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.

For a second offense or case in which the financial loss is more than $250, the crime of identity theft would be a Class C felony, punishable by one to 10 years inprisonment and a fine of up to $5,000.

The bill also defines and provides penalties for a more serious crime of trafficking in stolen identities. Possession of five or more identification documents from the same person or possession of identification documents for five or more different people would be considered evidence of trafficking in stolen identities, which would be a Class B felony punishable by two to 20 years inprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000.

Under the new law, it would be a Class C felony to steal another identity or assume a fictitious identity for the purpose of avoiding a summons, arrest, prosecution or to impede a criminal investigation. The crime of obstructing justice using a false identity is punishable by one to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

In addition to paying any fines, convicted criminals would be required to pay restitution to their victims, including any costs for correcting credit history and rating and costs of administrative proceedings to deal with debts caused by theft, any lost wages and attorneys fees.

After a conviction, the sentencing court would issue an order to correct any false information in a victim’s record that was caused by the identity theft. Credit reporting agencies would have to include the court’s order in the victim’s credit record and keep the false information noted in the court’s order out of the consumer’s record.

The legislation also allows victims to sue identity thieves to recover up to $5,000 per incident or three times the actual damages, whichever is greater.

Jurisdiction to bring both civil and criminal action is defined to cover any county in which any part of the crime took place, regardless of whether the defendant was ever actually present in that county or the victim’s county of residence. The jurisdiction provision is important because Alabama prosecutors and courts previously were restricted in cases where an offender outside this state stole the identities of Alabama citizens.