Protecting consumers from identity theft

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By Congressman Bob Goodlatte

The Federal Trade Commission recently estimated that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.  Identity thieves use identifying information such as a consumer’s Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information in order to conduct such fraud as opening up new credit cards and gaining access to bank accounts.  The ramifications can be financially disastrous for citizens and can be extremely difficult to resolve.

In fact, the fear of identity theft is consistently cited as a reason many Americans are cautious about engaging in more transactions online.  This is unfortunate because of the multitude of ways the Internet can help consumers shop, do business and communicate efficiently and at low cost.

Identity theft is a serious and growing threat and we must crack down hard on these technological thieves.  While the U.S. has many federal statutes targeting identity theft, some of these laws were weakened by a recent Supreme Court case.  In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the language of those federal statutes require not only that the criminal use the identification documents of another person, but also that the criminal knew the documents were those of another actual person.

The context of that case was that an illegal alien had given an employer counterfeit social security and alien registration cards containing his name but the identification numbers of other individuals.  He was charged with two immigration offenses as well as aggravated identity theft.  The Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the aggravated identity theft count explaining that the language of the relevant statutes required prosecutors to prove not only that the defendant used identity documents that were not his own, but also that the defendant knew the identity documents were those of another actual person.

With identity theft growing, we must be particularly mindful of how we can strengthen our privacy and protection laws, which is why I was pleased to introduce bipartisan legislation to strengthen the federal criminal laws punishing identity theft.  My legislation would amend these federal statutes to make clear that when an identity thief intentionally and unlawfully uses identity documents that are not his own, prosecutors do not need to show that the criminal also knew that the identity documents were those of another actual person. 

Identity theft occurs when someone intentionally and unlawfully uses identity documents that are not his own.  Our federal statutes should reflect this reality.  By strengthening our laws we will help prosecutors put identity thieves behind bars and will help safeguard American citizens from their crimes.

To learn more about how you can protect yourself from identity theft, please visit my website at http://goodlatte.house.gov.