Consumer protection a key Albany issue

By Sen. James Seward

Every year I receive letters from constituents concerned about some aspect of deception in marketing. Many of the concerns people express relate now to identity theft or protection of personal information. With every credit card company and business asking for your social security number, consumers have to be careful about the amount of personal information that you disclose to others.

This year, the senate majority took the initiative on a couple of major concerns related to identity theft. It follows on the heels of a special report issued by a temporary panel of the senate that reviewed the problem and scope of identity theft in New York.

The senate passed a package of legislation to protect people from identity theft that would give consumers a proactive way to prevent identity theft, protect against cyber piracy, and increase penalties for those who commit identity theft. The package is highlighted by legislation that would allow consumers to place security freezes on their credit, preventing identity thieves from causing greater damage to a victim’s credit.

Security freeze on credit. The state senate gave final legislative passage to a law that would allow consumers to place a security freeze on their credit, blocking all access to consumer credit reports and preventing identity thieves from taking out new loans and credit in the name of a victim. Consumers who want security freezes would be provided unique personal identification numbers (PINs) or passwords that must be given to credit reporting agencies each time the consumers want to allow access to their credit information, effectively cutting off a thief’s ability to get credit, loans, and leases in the consumer’s name (Chapter 63, S.6805-B).

The senate passed other identity theft related legislation that would:

• Thwart telemarketers from deceptively gaining people’s phone numbers by establishing prohibitions on the sale of telephone record information and authorizing the attorney general to bring action against devious commercial interests that violate the prohibitions (passed by both houses, S.6723);

• Establish the “anti-phishing act of 2006,” which offers the attorney general, private industry, and non-profit organizations the ability to pursue civil action against those who defraud New York residents by using e-mail scams to steal private information (Chapter 64, S.5370-C);

Increasing penalties. The senate passed legislation that would expand and clarify the crimes of identity theft, as well as strengthen penalties. The bill would:

• Increase the penalty for identity theft in the first degree from a Class D to a C felony;

• Expand the period between prior convictions of identity theft from 5 to 10 years;

• Expand the list of unlawfully possessed personal identification information for identity theft in the second degree; and

• Decrease the number of such items possessed from 250 pieces to a more reasonable 10 pieces. (S.2899).

Helping our servicemen and women. I voted for legislation that would increase the penalty for the crimes of identity theft and unlawful possession of personal identification information when the victim is a member of the armed forces, and the perpetrator knows that the victim is a member of the armed forces (S.6873).

Cyber piracy. Cyber “piracy” involves stealing web site or personal names and using them for personal gain. The senate approved a bill that would provide protection against cyber piracy and the unlawful registration of domain names (S.2306).

For more information about protecting your identity, and making sure you’re not a victim of identity theft, contact my office.

Senator Seward’s office web site is

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