You are probably worried about identity theft. Or should be. You give your credit or debit card to strangers at cash registers, over the phone, and over the internet, and you can only hope they’re not passing along your information to bad guys. You access the ATM, sometimes in dodgy locations. Clerks put receipts for purchases right in the bag and you don’t always look to be sure they’re accurate.
But even the most careful person can become a victim. Despite all the advice we read and hear about safeguarding documents and dealing prudently with strangers, anyone can be deliberately deceived. And, of course, sometimes you have no control at all over what happens with information and it is accidentally misused. You can entrust it appropriately to a respected firm, and then their computers are hacked and, whoops! your information is in the hands of the Russian mob or some crooks somewhere in Lower Slobovia.
Many companies offer free “protection services” but all they’ll do is alert you if someone tries to access your credit. Then all you can do is cancel your credit cards, order new ones, and hope you’re not stuck with the bills.
However, far worse things can happen. Much worse than a stranger buying stuff on your credit card. Police files are full of sad tales of thieves taking out mortgages, ordering huge shipments of materials, seeking medical treatment, and even getting arrested using false identities. Proving they weren’t you could be a terrible hassle. People report it can take years to clear their names. Meanwhile, of course, victims have little or no credit and may be hounded by vendors demanding payment for the other guy’s bills.
According to reliable estimates, ten million Americans have been affected so far. It’s a nationwide problem but there’s been little nationwide attempt to find a solution.
Now, however, some members of the New Jersey General Assembly have an idea that could help. Assemblymen Herb Conaway, D-Delran, and Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, introduced a bill to help victims clear their names more quickly when their identities have been stolen.
A-2991 requires the attorney general to provide an “Identity Theft Passport” to victims. Any resident of New Jersey who believes he or she has been victimized could make application by sending the attorney general’s office a copy of the police report and any other supporting documentation of identity theft.
The victim could use the passport to prove to any law enforcement agency that he or she is not involved in any crime committed by someone else using their name. The victim can present the passport to any credit agency attempting to collect on bills run up by someone else, and can use it as official identification for any other transaction.
“The Identity Theft Passport can help alleviate some of the costs and stress associated with identity theft,” said Mukherji. “By giving victims a way to definitively prove their identity, it may help resolve financial issues that arise as a result of the theft and possibly prevent a wrongful arrest in situations where a crime has been committed using the stolen identity.”
The bill was unanimously approved by the General Assembly in November and was sent to the Senate for consideration. At this time there’s no Senate sponsor, so it won’t be considered any time soon. But it’s one of those common-sense bills no legislator can really object to, so I believe it will be passed before spring.
Meanwhile, continue to be as careful as you can.