Innocent Missourians have been the victims of crimes ranging from someone using an existing credit card account to purchase goods to an individual opening multiple accounts using stolen personal information to someone using a stolen identity to secure a business or home loan. The methods for perpetrating identity theft are many and that is why it is important that Missourians are provided with adequate protection from these devastating and very personal crimes.
Identity thieves work hard to steal information about us from online transactions, looking over one’s shoulder at an ATM, to going through our trash. Our trash is a potential treasure trove information if credit card offers and various other mailings with personal information are not shredded before being discarded. It’s this information that can be used to register new credit cards and endanger the financial stability of innocent, unsuspecting Missourians. The avenues of identity theft are many and that is why identity theft is so hard to combat.
In 2004, the legislature passed legislation to increase the penalties for those who steal our personal information (HB916). That bill put some real teeth into our law to send the message that Missouri views identity theft as a serious crime and criminals will not get away with a simple slap on the wrist. On a federal level, President Bush created the first ever Identity Theft Task Force to protect American families from identity theft and to crack down on criminals who traffic in stolen identities. The combination of state and federal efforts has made it more difficult to engage in this illicit behavior.
This year the House is taking additional steps with another piece of legislation that makes a very simple change that could mean a big difference for anyone who is victimized by identity thieves. This bill clarifies that identity theft victims have the right to contact local law enforcement to have an incident report prepared and filed. While many police departments already do this, believe or not, there are some that are not willing to take identity theft reports. This is especially important when a victim attempts to have charges removed from a credit card that were run up by an identity thief, because the victim needs a police report to substantiate the fact that they were the victim of a crime. This is a simple, commonsense change that will assist Missourians victimized by identity theft to straighten out the financial mess that can result from these types of crimes.
Identity theft is a serious crime and all of us are at risk of becoming the kind of cautionary tale we see in those catchy commercials. By being smart with the way we do business and by enacting laws that give Missourians adequate protection, we can thwart the efforts of these criminals who seek to impersonate us.