Identity theft can happen to anyone

Over the past 10 to 15 years it has become more and more imperative for individuals to safeguard their personal information in order to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft. Currently, more than 10 million Americans annually have their identities stolen. Identity theft can devastate a person’s finances and credit rating, which can impact one’s ability to get a loan, purchase a car or even get a job. And, even after people discover they have been the victim of this insidious crime, they still have to undergo a maze of paperwork, reach out to countless companies they have done business with and dedicate more of their finances to “correcting the record” and restoring their good name.

I am passionate about combating this crime because I was a victim several years ago. I know firsthand the stress such a crime places on a person and the amount of time (often years) it takes to clear up the mess someone else created in your life.

Because of my experience, I have worked hard to have three bills signed into law since 2002 combating identity theft, and I have three more currently before the General Assembly. Identity theft is a complex and far-reaching crime and, because of these intricacies, more than one law is needed to make sure various aspects of the crime are covered.

Back in 2002, I authored Act 62, which became Pennsylvania’s Identity Theft Act. This law makes it a third-degree felony to commit a first offense of the crime of identity theft and establishes a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. A third or subsequent offense raises the crime to a second-degree felony with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

In 2009, I authored Act 42, requiring convicted offenders of identity theft to provide financial restitution to their victims.

Last year, I authored and had signed into law Act 97, which includes children under the age of 18 as part of a protected class of victims, along with individuals age 60 or older or those who are care-dependent, under the identity theft statute. When an offense is committed against someone of a protected class, then the grading of the offense is enhanced one degree.

In testimony before Congress in 2011, the Federal Trade Commission noted that identity thieves deliberately capture the Social Security number of a child in order to obtain employment; apply for government benefits, car loans and mortgages; and open new accounts. The commission also referred to a study that found an estimated 142,000 instances of identity theft are perpetrated against children in the United States each year. Stealing the identity of children is a growing trend because no one thinks to check the credit records of a child until he or she is old enough to apply for a credit card, buy a car or apply for a college loan. Unfortunately, by that point a great amount of damage has likely already been done.

During the 2013-14 legislative session, I have introduced three new bills to complement my previous identity theft laws. House Bill 582 would make it unlawful for any person who received information under the state’s Right-to-Know Law to publish, republish or disclose a person’s date of birth. House Bill 584 would require credit card issuers that mail credit card offers or solicitations to verify the person’s address if he or she accepts the offer and that address is different from the address to which the offer was originally sent. House Bill 585 would allow the attorney general, in cooperation with any law enforcement agency, to issue identity theft passports to persons who are a resident of the state, and who learn or reasonably believe he or she has been the victim of identity theft and has filed a police report.

However, as much as I and my colleagues work at the state level to place stricter penalties on those who commit the crime of identity theft, the first line of defense rests with you. I encourage all consumers to be vigilant in checking their credit reports and to be more guarded about to whom they are releasing their personal information.

For more information on identity theft, contact information to receive free copies of your credit report and information on how to file a complaint, check out the “Identity Theft” link on my website at I also have information and brochures available in my district offices on prevention and reporting of the crime of identity theft. My offices are located at 74 Main St. in Wellsboro and 121 Canton St. in Troy.

Remember, if you are victim of identity theft, you must act quickly to recover. Contact the fraud department of your creditors, contact your financial institution(s), report the theft to law enforcement, and file complaints with the state attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission right away.

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