Senator Lucio's Letterhead


August 2, 2006
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez , Press Secretary
Phone: (512) 463-0385

Texas Legislature Passes Identity Theft Protection Bills

We are constantly bombarded with frightening reports that a person's identity has been stolen and his credit ruined. Unfortunately, South Texas residents are not immune from identity theft.

The Texas Legislature has begun making great strides toward preventing this type of personal invasion and helping victims. Identity crime is the theft or misuse of personal or financial identifiers to gain something of value. Surprisingly, in most cases, the person stealing an identity is usually someone the victim knows. And only 9 percent of identity crimes are computer-related, with the most common being credit card theft. However, criminals with technical knowledge of the Internet are using the Internet as a "Target Rich" environment, especially since they have a much lower risk of being detected in cyberspace.

One of my own constituents, some time after losing her purse, began receiving calls from mortgage companies for late payments on houses in her name. The properties were in other states and purchased by a man she had never even met. My constituent had to involve the FBI in this matter, which is still not cleared, and her credit remains in shambles. Identity theft criminals are clever and can incur tremendous debt before the victim realizes.

Criminals use various schemes to rob personal information. One of these is the use of skimmers or scanning devices, which can illegally remove electronic data from the magnetic stripes of credit cards. The stolen information is then used to make a counterfeit card. In 2003, we initiated a law making possession of a skimmer or scanning device a Class B misdemeanor.

That same year we also made it unlawful for a business to print more than four digits of a credit card number, and the crime is punishable under civil penalty laws.

For additional protection, security alerts can be placed on consumer files alerting recipients of consumer files that their identities may have been used fraudulently. Another initiative allows a security freeze notice to be placed on these files prohibiting their release without the owner's authorization.

The Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives consumers the right to free credit reports and prohibits lenders from reporting negative information that results from identity theft. Lenders are now required to honor fraud alerts by verifying an applicant's identity, and businesses must provide records of fraudulent activity to consumers.

Another Texas law of 2003 gave people who fall prey to identity theft the right to report it in the city in which they reside. Formerly, these reports could only be filed in the city where this type of crime occurred. This law makes the investigative and prosecutorial processes that are often lengthy and complex less stressful on the victim.

Further efforts in 2003 led to requiring standardized training of peace officers for investigating identity theft, and in 2005, we enhanced the law to require peace officers to make written reports in these cases and available to the claimant upon request.

We continue to do everything possible to prevent identity theft, protect victims and prosecute the guilty. We even passed a law requiring restaurant and bar owners to post notice to employees warning that identity theft is a crime. However, prevention begins with the consumer. The following tips aid in identity theft prevention: shred anything with personal information; check credit reports annually; never give personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call; empty wallets/purses of extra credit cards; never leave receipts at ATMs, store counters, etc; save all credit card receipts; and closely monitor credit card statements.

On the Internet, provide only the minimum amount of information to complete a transaction; use only one credit card online (preferably one with a low credit limit) and check statements monthly; review merchant privacy policies; and avoid "too good to be true deals."

Despite best practices, if you become an identity crime victim, cancel each credit card; write a courtesy letter to each of the creditors in question; obtain new cards with new account numbers; place a fraud alert on your account; review credit reports carefully; and contact the bank concerning checking account information.

The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act amendment to the FCRA allows one free credit report per person per year upon request. To contact credit bureaus, call: Equifax (800)525-6285, Experian (888)397-3742, Trans Union (800)680-7289. When mail is stolen or tampered with, contact the U.S. Postal inspector, and the Social Security Administration's Hotline at (800) 269-0271 if a social security number is compromised. Complaints can also be filed with the Federal Trade Commission by calling (877)-IDTHEFT/(877)438-4338.

As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my press secretary, 512-463-0385