In Hawaii, three laws aimed at fighting identity theft took effect today, including one that requires businesses and governments to report to people if their personal information is compromised, The Honolulu Advertiser reports.
The Internet and the digital age have turned people's bank account numbers, birth dates and Social Security numbers into prizes for thieves adept at turning such information into instant credit at the expense of unsuspecting victims. The Federal Trade Commission said ID theft climbed 265 percent from 2001 to 2005. Hawai'i had 810 reported cases in 2005.
"We see hundreds of unsuspecting Hawai'i residents become victims to a wide variety of identity theft crimes," said Stephen Levins, executive director of the state Office of Consumer Protection.
Hawaii's new law - like most of the 30-odd states that now have such laws - are modeled on one passed by California about three years ago.
"Several years ago, it wasn't really publicized that there were these security breaches and the reason for that is prior to California enacting their law, there was no affirmative obligation on the part of businesses to contact persons whose information had been compromised," he said.
A second bill lets ID theft victims place a security freeze on their credit reports. This goes further than the federal law, which allows consumers to place a fraud alert on their report but does nothing to stop lenders from extending credit.
"What a freeze does is essentially stop the bleeding and prevent an identity thief from continuing to exploit your good name. When they go in and try to take out another credit card, they're not going to be able do it because no creditor is going to extend credit unless they can check your credit report," Levins said.
Finally, businesses and government must now "take reasonable measures" when disposing of records containing personal information. "It's to ensure that stuff's not just thrown into Dumpsters, which has happened in the past."
The three laws join two others passed last year. One makes it a felony to possess someone's confidential information without authorization. And on July 1, 2007, a law passed last year will restrict the disclosure of Social Security numbers by businesses or government.