As our technology advances with the time, so do crimes. I remember a time when I could leave my door unlocked and my keys in my car along with my wallet. Now, for security purposes, we have to lock our house and car, and we might as well put a lock on our wallet.
Breaking and entering into a home used to be the greatest damage anyone could do to a family's well-being and peace of mind. Not anymore. Now, with just your Social Security number, one person can wreck your life and put up financial roadblocks you will run into for the rest of your life.
I think you know what I am talking about. We have all seen the commercials on television ? identity theft victims describing their plight through voiceovers. They are meant to make light of an incident and can be somewhat amusing, yet identity thefts are anything but. In fact they can, and have, ruined lives. Victims of these crimes often spend years and hard-earned money to prove their innocence, while the thieves are enjoying their bounty and planning their next offense.
For four years in a row, the Federal Trade Commission has reported identity theft as the number one consumer-reported complaint filed to the Commission. In 2003, 214,905 identity theft complaints were reported, an increase from the 161,836 complaints reported in 2002.
Just as concerning, this trafficking of identities aids terrorist crimes. Terrorists can move more freely in the U.S. with illicit IDs, credit cards and other documentation. Insufficient legislation and prosecution has allowed a situation to arise where identities are easy to steal without fear of reprisal.
In an effort to curb the modern-day crime, I introduced the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, H.R. 1731, in April 2003. The legislation, if passed by Congress and signed by the President, will give prosecutors greater power in convicting and sentencing an identity thief. First, it creates a new and separate crime of "aggravated identity theft" for any person who uses the identity of another person to commit certain felonies, including terrorist acts.
Second, if the thief uses the stolen identity in connection with another federal crime, and the intent of the underlying federal crime is proven, the prosecutor need not prove the intent to use the false identity in a crime. This lessens the burden on the prosecutor, making convictions easier.
Third, the bill creates "insider identity theft," which is committed by insiders of organizations who illegally use or transfer individuals' identifying information that has been entrusted to them. A recent report by researchers at Michigan State University estimates about half of all identity crimes were the result of personal information being stolen from corporate databases. Once stolen, this information is often used to wrongly claim federal benefits, such as Medicare and Social Security. This bill directs the U.S. Sentencing Commission to amend its guidelines to appropriately punish ID theft offenses involving an abuse of position.
Identity theft can no longer be ignored. Congress must act on this legislation in order to deter this growing crime. As the crimes advance, so must the laws and punishments to deter them.
About the Author
U.S. Representative John R. Carter serves as a voice in Congress for the people of the 31st District in Texas. In November 2002, Carter was elected to the 108th Congress and carried nearly 70% of the vote. His fellow freshmen elected him to represent them on the prestigious House Republican Steering Committee, which is responsible for the placement of Republican members on committees. He was then appointed by the steering committee to serve on the Judiciary, Government Reform, Education and Workforce committees.