We’ve come a long way from the days when identity theft first became a widespread problem, back when law enforcement officials didn’t quite know how to address it. It was such a new, unheard of issue even as recently as the 1980s that victims, the financial sector, and the judicial system alike often felt lost. The end result back then was often a lengthy nightmare for the individuals who were trying to clear their names.
Now, the scope of this type of crime is more fully understood, and states around the country have mechanisms in place to track down guilty parties and prosecute. But as thieves and scammers become craftier, the legislation often has to play catch up in order to stay on top of it. That’s why states around the country adopted new legislation in 2014 to address the problem.
One of the most notable changes was in the way children’s identities are being viewed. Several states passed legislation that works to prevent the fraudulent use of children’s personally identifiable information, a crime which is often committed by a parent or relative. It became easier in many states to put a freeze on a child’s credit report, meaning the child’s identity could not be used to initiate a new line of credit or an account of some kind.
Other legislation in a few states worked to combat the flip side of this problem, which is identity theft or scamming of an elderly person in the criminal’s care; again, it’s sad to say, but the elderly are often targeted by identity thieves, and too often it’s someone the victim knows. Florida, who has a large retiree and senior adult population, took it a step further and clarified what is admissible in court as a sworn statement by an elderly individual, as well as tightened up the laws regarding theft of property. It is no longer only physical property theft that’s considered exploitation of a senior citizen, for example, since there are other ways to defraud an individual.
Regarding both child and elderly identity theft cases, some states increased the penalty for these types of crimes, required government entities to report suspicious activity involving these citizens’ data, and initiated some forms of mandatory checking on Social Security numbers. Several states also allowed for the freezing of a minor’s or incapacitated adult’s credit if there is cause to believe someone may be after that individual’s identity.
Another running theme throughout these new laws is consumer protection, namely that some states now have strict requirements for reporting suspected data breaches and informing consumers who may have been affected. Until recently, many states had no mandatory requirement for this timeframe; of the record number of data breaches in 2014—the highest year so far for data breaches, in fact—many involved companies that waited months to inform their customers that their information had been stolen.
One of the stronger pieces of legislation involves the mere possession of stolen personal data. Identity theft can be hard to track down and trace, especially in cases where the original thief sold the information online. That’s a booming business in the world of black market e-commerce, so the person who accessed your information may not be the person who actually used it. There were numerous arrests in 2014 in which the suspect had personal information, stacks of prepaid debit cards, and other identity theft tools of the trade, but until now there was a shortage of strong legislation that made that illegal. Now, some states have passed laws stating that even possessing someone’s personally identifiable information without cause is a crime.
It can be overwhelming to try to stop identity theft and its related crimes when the laws vary in so many states, and efforts like those from 2014 have created a more uniform environment for preventing and prosecuting this crime. Be sure to read up on the laws in your state and know what protections are in place to keep your identity safe.