New Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act

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In July 2004, President Bush signed legislation passed by Congress in response to the growing problem of identity theft as more and more Americans use the Internet to shop and manage their personal finances. The Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act amends the federal criminal code to establish penalties for aggravated identity theft in addition to the existing punishments for related felonies. The act adds two years to prison sentences for “knowingly transferring, possessing, or using, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person” during and in relation to specified felony violations. It also adds five years to the sentences of violators who use false identification in the commission of “terrorist acts.”

In 2003, identity theft topped the list of consumer fraud complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). There were 214,905 reported cases of identity theft that year, and the FTC estimates that as many as 27.3 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years. The FTC published a report in September 2003 estimating that identity theft cost U.S. businesses and consumers $53 billion annually. Betsy Broder, assistant director for the FTC’s Division of Planning and Information, claims that the new law will increase the likelihood of thieves being prosecuted, because prosecutors are more likely to bring a case if the law provides for serious jail time.

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