Identity theft safeguards approved in California

| Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill into law Aug. 28 that is intended to help law enforcement agencies in California spot trends of identity theft and more effectively combat the growing crime.

The Federal Trade Commission reports that California ranks third behind Arizona and Nevada in per capita identity theft.

“Last year, one million Californians were victimized by identity theft … Law enforcement must utilize every tool available to stay ahead of the criminals who organize and steal personal information to commit fraud,” Schwarzenegger said in a written statement. “This legislation will give California law enforcement agencies access to valuable data to use in the fight against identity theft.”    

The new law, previously SB1390, requires the California Department of Justice to include information regarding identity theft arrests in the agency’s annual crime report.

Sen. Chuck Poochigian, R-Fresno, the bill’s sponsor, said separating out identity theft arrest information will create more accurate criminal justice statistical data.

A separate bill to help combat identity theft has been sent to Schwarzenegger’s desk.

Sponsored by Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Redondo Beach, the bill would require retailers and financial institutions to remove credit card and bank account numbers from credit card transaction receipts at stores and banks. The bill – SB1699 – won near-unanimous support in the Legislature.

“The fewer places your sensitive financial information appears in print, the lower the odds are that you’ll become the state’s next identity theft victim,” Bowen said in a written statement.

Existing California law requires credit card numbers to be removed from store receipts handed to customers. Bowen’s bill would expand the rule to also require the numbers to be removed from receipts kept by merchants or banks doing the transaction.

The requirement wouldn’t apply to stores that don’t submit their transactions electronically and need paper receipts with the customer’s credit or debit account numbers on it to get paid.

Despite lawmakers’ willingness to approve efforts to quell identity theft, two other initiatives intended to fight fraud failed to advance from the Legislature.

The first bill, SB1387, would have increased the penalties for the theft and trafficking of personal identifying information of 10 or more individuals. Violators would have faced as much as three years in prison.

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

The second bill, SB1388, would have changed 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 have faced up to three years in prison and/or as much as a $10,000 fine.

Both bills, which were sponsored by Poochigian, remained in the Assembly Appropriations Committee at the deadline to advance to the full chamber for consideration. The Senate previously approved both bills.