Identity theft safeguards advance in California

| 8/17/2006

A legislative package that is intended to help curb identity theft is nearing passage in the California Legislature.

“Identity theft is the fastest growing crime category in the nation, largely because the criminals who profit from it often face only a slap on the wrist if caught,” Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, said in a written statement.

California law limits charges for possessing and trafficking in identifying information to a misdemeanor, regardless of the number of identities stolen.

One bill, SB1387, offered by Poochigian would increase the penalties for the theft and trafficking of personal identifying information of 10 or more individuals. Violators would face as much as three years in prison.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee is reviewing the bill. If approved there, it would head to the full chamber for a final vote before heading back to the Senate for approval of changes.

Another bill, SB1388, in the Appropriations Committee changes the penalty for using fraudulent e-mails or Web sites to “trick” consumers into providing personal information, such as bank account numbers and Social Security numbers, because they claim to be a legitimate business.

Anyone found to be engaging in the practice, also known as “phishing,” would face up to three years in prison and/or as much as a $10,000 fine.

One other bill, SB1390, would require the Department of Justice to include information regarding identity theft arrests in the agency’s annual crime report.

Assembly lawmakers recently approved the measure by unanimous consent. The bill now heads to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk.

All bills must gain passage in the Legislature prior to the end of the regular session Aug. 31.