On Thursday, President Bush signed into law, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, creating stiffer criminal penalties for identity theft. The goal of this bill is to prevent identity theft by increasing the punishments associated with the crime and establishing a new crime of aggravated identity theft, which is the use of a stolen identity to commit certain criminal acts.
Though solid numbers are hard to come by, identity fraud has been called one of the fastest-growing crimes in the U.S, touching millions of people at a cost of billions of dollars a year. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that close to 10 million Americans become victims of identity fraud a year.
The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act establishes the new crime of aggravated identity theft, which is defined as the use of a stolen identity to commit other crimes. As part of the legislation, convictions carry a mandatory two-year prison sentence in addition to any penalties for the related crime. When the theft is connected with a terrorism case, such as providing a terrorist with a false passport, the mandatory prison term is five years.
“We're taking an important step today to combat the problem of identity theft, one of the fastest growing financial crimes in our nation. Last year alone, nearly 10 million Americans had their identities stolen by criminals who rob them and the nation's businesses of nearly $50 billion through fraudulent transactions. The bill I'm about to sign sends a clear message that a person who violates another's financial privacy will be punished”, President Bush stated.
"Identity theft undermines the basic trust on which our economy depends," Bush said before signing the legislation. "When a person takes out an insurance policy, or makes an online purchase, or opens a savings account, he or she must have confidence that personal financial information will be protected and treated with care. Identity theft harms not only its direct victims, but also many businesses and customers whose confidence is shaken."