7 new laws address identity theft
The measures both increase safeguards and stiffen penalties
Gov. Linda Lingle signed into law seven bills yesterday aimed at protecting residents from the nation's fastest-growing crime: identity theft.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft cases in Hawaii rose 265 percent from 2001 to 2005, costing consumers millions of dollars.
"These (new) laws provide Hawaii residents with some of the most comprehensive protection against identity theft in the country," said Mark Recktenwald, director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs. "They empower the public to protect themselves and provide law enforcement additional tools to deter and prosecute."
Four laws require businesses and government agencies to increase preventive measures. Recktenwald said three of the laws, which take effect next year to allow time for implementation, require businesses and government agencies to guard and dispose of personal information, to use Social Security numbers on a limited basis and to notify consumers of a security breach if their identity could be compromised.
The fourth preventive measure calls for the government's Anti-Phishing Task Force, which monitors e-mails requesting confidential information, to immediately expand its responsibilities and be renamed the Identity Theft Task Force.
Another law empowers identity theft victims to guard against the use of their personal information if it falls into the wrong hands.
On Jan. 1, Hawaii will join 17 other states that allow identity theft victims to place a security freeze on their credit reports, Recktenwald said. A security freeze prohibits a credit reporting agency from releasing any information without the consumer's express authorization.
Federal law currently allows victims to place a fraud alert on their credit report. But up to 30 percent of people who do so continue to be victimized, Recktenwald said. A fraud alert only notifies those who request information of a possible identity theft; it does not restrict the distribution of information.
Two laws deal with punishment for identity theft. One upgrades the crime from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony and increases the possible penalty for repeat offenders to a $10,000 fine and/or maximum five-year prison sentence. Another law makes it easier to prosecute use of a computer in identity theft as a separate offense.
"These stiffer penalties give us more leverage, and hopefully will discourage criminals," said Honolulu police Capt. Luis Kealoha. He attended the bill-signing ceremony at Washington Place yesterday.
Honolulu police say they receive about 400 identity theft cases per month on Oahu. According to an FTC report, however, only 30 percent of identity theft victims file a police report.
IDENTITY THEFT LEGISLATION PACKAGE
Senate Bill 2290: Requires businesses and government agencies to notify consumers if their personal information has been compromised by an unauthorized disclosure. Effective Jan. 1, 2007.
SB 2292: Requires businesses and government agencies to take reasonable measures when storing and disposing of personal information. Effective Jan. 1, 2007.
SB 2293: Restricts businesses and government agencies' usage of Social Security numbers. Effective July 1, 2007.
House Bill 3244: Expands the responsibilities of the Anti-Phishing Task Force, which was created last year to monitor unsolicited e-mails requesting personal information, to the Identity Theft Task Force. Effective immediately.
HB 1871: Allows identity theft victims to place a security freeze on their credit reports. Effective Jan. 1, 2007
SB 2159: Upgrades identity theft from a misdemeanor to a Class C felony with a maximum $10,000 fine and five-year prison term . Effective immediately.
HB 2535: Makes it easier to prosecute use of a computer to commit identity theft.