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New Law Stiffens Penalties for Identity Theft

Bush Signs Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act


On July 15, 2004, President Bush signed a law requiring tougher punishment for criminals convicted of identity theft. The "Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act," which increases existing penalties for the crime of identity theft, establishes aggravated identity theft as a criminal offense, and establishes mandatory penalties for aggravated identity theft.

Aggravated identity theft is defined in the law as the use of a stolen identity to commit certain criminal acts.

Ruining a Financial Reputation

Bush said about identity theft that, "the losses are not measured only in dollars, an identity thief can steal the victim's financial reputation. Running up bills on credit card accounts that the victim never knew existed, the criminal can quickly damage a person's lifelong efforts to build and maintain a good credit rating. Repairing the damage can take months or years."

Under the new law, convicted criminals will receive a mandatory five-year prison terms if convicted of using or providing fake IDs to help terrorists. Providing fake IDs for non-terrorism-related crimes would carry a two-year prison term. While signing the bill at the White House, Bush said identity theft "undermines the basic trust on which our economy depends," robbing its victims of nearly $50 billion in fraudulent transactions.

Suffering Financially

Experts say there have been close to 10 million Americans that were victimized by identity theft in 2003 making it one of the fastest growing crimes over the last five years in the USA. Victims of identity theft not only suffer financially, but can have their reputation demolished.

A study by the Identity Resource Center in 2003 showed that the average victim does not discover their identity has been stolen for one to six months after the first occurrence. The average fraudulent charges per victim increased 416 percent over the previous year, topping off at $92,893 against $18,000 reported in 2002.

According to the survey, less than half the victims felt that their personal problems resulting from identity theft could ever be totally resolved.

How Are People Victimized By Identity Theft?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, skilled identity thieves use various methods including:
  • Stealing records from their employer.
  • Bribing an employee who has access to these records, or
  • hacking into the organization's computers.
  • They rummage through your trash, or the trash of businesses or dumps in a practice known as "dumpster diving."
  • They obtain credit reports by abusing their employer's authorized access to credit reports or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to the information.
  • They steal credit and debit card numbers as your card is processed by using a special information storage device in a practice known as "skimming."
  • They steal wallets and purses containing identification and credit and bank cards.
  • They steal mail, including bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers, new checks, or tax information.
  • They complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.
  • They steal personal information from your home.


As the Internet becomes more of an intricate part of people's lives, it has opened up a new opportunities for identity thieves to gain access to individual's private information. "Phishing" is a high-tech swindle that uses spam or pop-up messages to deceive people into disclosing their credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information.

Generally, the way it works is the victims respond to an email or fill out a request for personal information on a Web site after being contacted by what appears to be a legitimate company, only to discover later that they have been victimized by identity theft.

Once thought of as an inconvenience to its victims rather then a real crime, identity theft has continued to reach deeper into the psyche of the people hurt by this crime. Victims may lose job opportunities, or refused loans, education, housing or cars, or even get arrested for crimes they did not commit. It can take years of effort and great expense for people to clean up the wreckage that the identity thief has made of their lives.

Sources: Federal Trade Commission, Whitehouse.gov

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