Senator Craig Estes
The Senate of the State of Texas - District 30

For Immediate Release
March 4, 2003
Contact: Lewis Simmons
Phone: (512) 463-01301

Capitol Update
Stopping Criminal Identity Theft
By Senator Craig Estes

Imagine this, it's Friday night and you are on your way home from a long day at work and looking forward to a relaxing weekend. You notice flashing lights in the rear view mirror. You start thinking to yourself: was I going too fast, did I run a stop sign, do I have broken taillight? Whatever the reason, you slowly pull off to the side of the road. You patiently await the officer with your hands in clear view since you have nothing to hide, hoping to get off with just a warning. You really don't want to take defensive driving classes, and you certainly hope this doesn't affect your insurance rates.

Then, out of nowhere, you see the glint of his pistol as the officer starts barking commands for you to get out of the car. Confused, and quite frankly scared, you comply. The next thing you know you are face down in the dirt. You feel the cold steel of the handcuffs lock tight on your wrists. Before you know it, you are hearing those familiar words from "Law and Order", your Miranda Rights.

In near shock you realize that you are being arrested like a common criminal. Why, because according to the police database, there are several warrants for your arrest and you are believed to be armed and dangerous.

How did it come to this? You are the victim of criminal identity theft. Criminal identity theft occurs when an offender provides law enforcement with your or someone else's personal identification such as a name, driver's license and even your Social Security number. Then the offender skips out on the law leaving your personal information in the law enforcement crime database with warrants for your arrest.

Does it sound too horrifying to be true? Well, it is horrifying and it is true. While most identity theft involves financial scams, such as someone using your identity to acquire credit and pile up debt in your name, identity theft also involves criminal activities. Overall, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America.

Anyone who is the victim of criminal identity theft would probably want the perpetrator tarred and feathered. However, under the current law, the penalty is only a Class C Misdemeanor. This is the same penalty for getting a speeding ticket - a fine of $500 or less. You get pulled over for speeding, are falsely arrested, and at no fault of the arresting officer, thrown into jail while the person responsible gets the equivalent of a traffic citation.

I think that is absolutely wrong and that perpetrators of criminal identity theft need to be held accountable for their actions. That is why I have filed Senate Bill 742 to increase the penalties for the commission of this crime to include both severe fines and jail time.

As our society continues its evolution toward a fully computerized world with personal information accessible at a push of a button, identity theft has become an even greater problem. As we become little more than numbers in a database, it is easier for those with devious intentions to take advantage of the system, avoiding their just punishments and passing them on to innocent victims.

Unless we increase the consequences for providing false information to law enforcement, there is no deterrence for this kind of crime. Senate Bill 742 is a step in the right direction - a step that I will gladly take on behalf of victims and potential victims of identity theft, because the only people we want face down in the dirt wearing handcuffs are criminals.

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