What is Identity Theft Legislation?

Nicholas K.

Identity theft legislation from regional and national governments address the continued concern over identity security. Identity theft can be defined as the stealing of vital personal and financial information by groups or individuals who seek to use the information for their financial gain. Traditional forms of identity theft range from outright theft of bank books and wallets to mail solicitations from scam artists. The advent of the Internet has opened new avenues for stolen identity, including e-mail scams requesting banking information from unsuspecting users. Current legislation helps law enforcement address the rapidly changing nature of lost personal and financial data.

Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which has guidelines for addressing identity theft, in 1970.
Congress passed the Fair Credit Reporting Act, which has guidelines for addressing identity theft, in 1970.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) of 1970 in the United States offers a template for regional and national legislation against identity theft. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is empowered under this act to regulate how credit reporting agencies deal with complaints from consumers. The FCRA states that consumers can file complaints with credit reporting agencies if they notice charges and other problems in their credit reports. These discrepancies might include instances where stolen credit card, loan and bank information contributed to negative reports from creditors.

Agencies must respond within 30 days of filed complaints and resolve legitimate claims by removing charges. The FCRA requires that agencies set policies that prevent further problems from taking place. This national policy prevents credit card companies and lenders from providing reporting agencies with false reports about consumer credit.

Local and regional governments create additional layers of protection against identity theft. These governments create identity theft legislation based on studies of local issues rather than national or international statistics. The state of Maryland, for example, divides cases of identity theft by the value of the fraud. Identity fraud resulting in damages below $500 US Dollars (USD) can lead to prison sentences as long as 18 months and fines up to $5,000 USD. Felony cases of mail and credit card fraud can result in sentences as long as five years and fines of as much as $25,000 USD.

International approaches to identity theft legislation have been slowed by jurisdictional issues. Regional and national governments tend not to give up sovereignty over fraud cases to international agencies. Changes in identity theft legislation differ from nation to nation based on the prevalence of this legal issue within each jurisdiction.

Law enforcement groups such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police coordinate information to bring thieves to justice. The Council of Europe Cybercrime Convention is one of several ad hoc groups that negotiate uniformity in regional enforcement of identity fraud. These groups have not created any legislation to deal with the global nature of identity crimes.

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