Senate unanimously passes identity theft bill

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(Host) The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted unanimously in favor of legislation to reduce cases of identity theft in Vermont. Committee Chairman Dick Sears says the bill is the most important consumer protection initiative that the Legislature will deal with this year.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) According to state law enforcement officials, the incidence of identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the state of Vermont and many of the victims of this crime aren’t aware that they have been victimized until weeks after the crime has taken place.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears is hopeful that this new legislation will help give consumers and law enforcement officials more tools to fight this crime in the future:

(Sears) “I hope that it will educate people to the real problem of identity theft. Secondly, give people an ability to deal with potential of identity theft through the ability to freeze their credit reports and other things. And finally create a crime that will allow prosecutors to extradite people from out of state and give more teeth to the law regarding this serious problem. In 2002 there were over nine million cases of identity theft in the United States and so it’s one of the fastest growing and most serious crimes.”

(Kinzel) Sears says identity theft often takes place when a thief obtains the social security number of a victim. The thief then uses this information to fraudulently obtain a new credit card in the victim’s name and then quickly runs up a massive bill.

The legislation tries to reduce the number of cases where local and state governments request a person’s social security number:

(Sears) “The more we look into it the more we realize how cavalier we’ve been with social security numbers. For example, to get a liquor license in this state you give your social security number. And you go and you look at the town clerk’s office and there is a person’s social security number, date of birth and all the information one would need to become that person. Overall we’re trying to, as much as we can, prevent theft of people’s identity because it’s a very serious offense.”

(Kinzel) The measure is expected to be on the Senate floor for debate by the end of the week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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