New law would make ID theft Class C felony

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 20, 2001

Staff Writer

Using someone’s identity for fraudulent use would become a crime under a bill approved by the Alabama House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The 94-0 vote sent the identity theft legislation back to the Senate ­ which originally voted 31-0 in favor of the bill ­ for a change made by a House committee.

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State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, said the legislation is needed and will help law enforcement.

The former chief of the Troy State University Police Department said the selling of identification cards on campus has been a problem in the past.

"People make a good living by selling IDs," Boothe said.

The Consumer Identity Protection Act defines certain elements of identity theft as crimes so 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," said Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor. "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.

"With 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 was sponsored by Senate Pro Tem Lowell Barron of Fyffe and State Rep. Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn. Co-sponsors are Sen. Jabo Waggoner of Vestavia Hills and State Rep. Neal Morrison, D-Cullman.

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.