State leaders welcome new identity theft law

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(Host) Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell says identity theft can and does happen in Vermont. On Monday in Manchester, Sorrell and state Senator Dick Sears of Bennington explained that a new law will make this crime a felony.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(Keese) Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Sears says it wasn’t easy convincing his committee that Vermont needed a new felony offense. He says the jails are too full already.

(Sears) “But once you hear the testimony, once you understand the scope of the problem, you understand the need for this law.”

(Keese) Nationwide, identity theft results in losses of $50 billion each year. Last year, 159 Vermonters reported credit card fraud and other crimes of stolen identity. Until now, victims have had difficulty filing complaints about these crimes.

Under the new law police are required to investigate identity theft complaints. It also bars the public posting of social security numbers on liquor licenses and other public documents. And it requires companies offering credit cards through the mail to verify address changes from new customers. That’s to keep scam artists from accepting credit card offers in other people’s names.

Sears says Vermont’s law is the third strongest in the country. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell says the law will become stronger in 2005, when a key provision kicks in.

(Sorrell) “On July 1 of next year, when Vermont victims of identity theft can call the credit companies and prohibit their credit histories from being reported without their specific individual permission, the protections to victims of identity theft here in Vermont will be even greater still.”

(Keese) Sorrell warned Vermonters to be wary of giving out personal information, He advised taking care with discarded papers and keeping pin and social security numbers separate from credit cards. Sorrell says electronic crimes are difficult to investigate and even harder to untangle. He says and prevention is still the best defense.

For Vermont Public radio, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester.

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