WASHINGTON Each chamber of the New York Legislature passed a bill this week that would toughen the penalties against identity theft.
The bills are meant to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to prosecute people who steal account numbers, Social Security numbers, or other personally identifying information to make fraudulent purchases or other transactions in the victims name.
The state Senate adopted a bill Monday that would make identity theft a felony and require defendants to pay damages to their victims. The criminal penalties would vary depending on the dollar amounts involved, but violators could face as much as seven years in prison.
The state Assemblys bill, which passed Wednesday, would do those things, plus establish a unit in the state attorney generals office to track identity thefts and assist victims.
Supporters said the bills would not only help consumers but also the credit card companies and other financial institutions that are often defrauded by identity thieves.
The financial industry is losing billions of dollars a year, and individuals are losing their good financial and credit ratings, Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, chairman of the Codes Committee said in a press statement.
Michael P. Smith, president of the New York Bankers Association, which supports the legislation, predicted the bills would be reconciled and be signed by Gov. George Pataki this year. Conference committee talks are expected to begin soon.
Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, chairwoman of the Consumer Affairs Committee, said in a press statement that the Senate bill is insufficient and too broad. The Senate proposal has so many problems, it is hard to believe that they are serious about enacting a statute to combat identity theft, she said.
The Senates bill would make it a crime to use information in everyday ways, she said, such as keeping an address book that includes birthdays.