June 23, 2003
(Austin, Texas) Governor Perry signed legislation on Sunday to fight the growing epidemic of identity theft. The bill, SB 473, authored by Sen. Rodney Ellis, will help prevent identity thieves from getting easy access to social security numbers and give victims of identity theft the ability to freeze their credit to prevent crooks from repeatedly making fraudulent charges to their accounts.
“Consumers want their private financial information better protected from identity thieves,” said Luke Metzger, Advocate with the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG). “This new law is a critical first step towards fighting fraud and giving Texans control over their privacy.”
SB 473 will limit disclosure of Social Security numbers on health insurance cards and on non-secure web sites, will require creditors who receive credit reports to take additional steps if a fraud alert has been placed on an account, allow victims to “freeze” their credit reports, and changes venue requirements to allow prosecution of identity theft in the county where the victim resides.
“Identity theft is devastating, and not only for its victims,” said Rob Schneider, Senior Staff Attorney with Consumers Union. “ID theft has led to growing questions on the part of consumers about just how many eyes are peeking into their personal financial information. SB 473 is an important step to assist ID theft victims and shield Social Security numbers.”
“On behalf of families across the state, we want to thank Gov. Perry, Sen. Ellis, Rep. Giddings, and all the legislators who helped get this bill passed,” said Cathie Adams of the Texas Eagle Forum. “It’s a commonsense measure that protects privacy and gives victims tools to help clear their names.”
Easy access to confidential identifying information and sloppy practices by department stores, banks and credit bureaus has lead to an epidemic of identity theft. In 2002, over 14,000 Texans reported being victimized by identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission, making it the leading consumer complaint. The harm to a consumer’s credit and daily life can be devastating. The damage to their credit ratings can result in victims having trouble getting new credit cards or loans and being denied insurance or having rates increased. They also often face hundreds of dollars and hours clearing their names.
“This bill represents the first step in Texas to combat a rapidly growing crime that undermines the financial security of thousands of Texans each year,” said Scott Brecher, a Houston man who was a victim of identity theft. “Mandatory observation of fraud alerts puts the merchants on the side of victims in preventing further damage to their good name.”
Consumers Union (512) 477-4431
Luke Metzger, TexPIRG (512) 479-7287