Assembly’s Identity Theft Protection Package Will Protect Central New Yorkers

May 17, 2006

To protect New York State residents from the invasive crime of identity theft, the Assembly has passed legislation I sponsored to help curb this growing problem.

The Assembly’s complete package consists of several bills aiming to crack down on identity theft – a serious crime that can easily result in significant financial loss and damaged credit ratings. The bills protect New York residents from being targets of the crime and provide assistance to those who are victimized. In 2005, 17,000 New Yorkers filed complaints of fraud and identity theft.

According to statistics from the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 685,000 complaints of fraud and identity theft – and about $680 million reported stolen – in 2005 alone, numbers that continue to rise.

According to a report from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, identity theft cost consumers millions in 2004. The report, unveiled last June as he introduced a comprehensive I.D. Theft Prevention Bill to the U.S. Senate, revealed the crime’s widespread effects. Statewide, an estimated 187,000 New Yorkers were victims of identity theft last year, costing consumers a total of $93 million.

Restricting the use of personal information

I sponsored an important bill in the package that places limits on the use and disclosure of an individual’s Social Security account number (A.10076-C). This legislation:

  • restricts businesses’ ability to print an individual’s Social Security number (SSN) on mailings or on any card or tag required to access products, services, or benefits;
  • prohibits businesses from requiring an individual to transmit his or her unencrypted SSN over the Internet; and
  • requires businesses that possess SSNs to implement appropriate safeguards and limit unnecessary employee access to SSNs.

The Social Security number is a gateway into many key pieces of personal information, including credit reports and a number of other financial documents. Its misappropriation can result in identity crooks gaining access to financial accounts, opening new accounts, and even making purchases with the victim’s money.

Another Assembly bill I supported would provide consumers with the ability to “freeze” their credit reports to guard against identity theft. This would allow consumers to prohibit access to the personal information maintained in their credit reports without their consent and prevent identity thieves from taking out new loans and credit in a consumer’s name (A.7349-D).

Technological advancements have made it easier for some of these criminals. Today an identity thief can simply go on the Internet and harvest the records of individuals posted by their county clerk to obtain names, addresses, and Social Security information. That’s why I sponsored legislation requiring state and local employees to redact personal identifying information from a record before it is made available to the public (A.10075-A).

In another effort to prevent privacy invasion, I sponsored an initiative that creates an Identity Theft Prevention and Mitigation Unit within the Consumer Protection Board, and an Identity Security Task Force, requiring law-enforcement agencies to take identity theft complaints and provide reports of those instances (A.10077).

An accompanying bill that I sponsored combats the unauthorized use of Social Security numbers by limiting their use as a means to identify state employees (A.10074). This is an important measure that can go a long way to help prevent instances of identity theft and a big step in the right direction.

Disposing identifying information

Another bill I supported requires all businesses and business persons to take detailed steps when disposing of personal information, including (A.8456-B):

  • shredding records before disposal;
  • destroying personal information contained in the record before disposal;
  • modifying the record to make personal information unreadable; or
  • taking action consistent with commonly acceptable industry practices that it reasonably believes will ensure that no unauthorized person will have access to personal information contained in the record.

Keeping your information personal

I supported the Assembly’s plan to restrict businesses from filing personal identifying information as part of a public record that is not relevant and necessary to accomplish the purpose of the filing (A.7670-D).

In addition, I supported a bill that requires state and municipal agencies to design information retrieval systems that allow for the segregation of information (A.8007). This ensures the government has maximum access to records and information systems, while concurrently protecting against the disclosure of deniable information.

It is extremely important that we balance access and privacy, since so much information is collected and transmitted electronically. But keeping up with the electronic world should not interfere with safeguarding personal information, nor should it create loopholes for unwanted invasions of privacy. These bills are key steps in protecting the privacy of New Yorkers, and this package will help curb the carelessness that often leads to identity theft.