Originally created 03/03/05

Pioneering identity theft laws aren't enough, experts say



SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Law enforcement officials attending the state's first summit on identity theft asked Tuesday for more money to combat the crime in California, the only state believed to have more than 1 million victims last year.

Authorities sought assistance from politicians, businesses and consumer advocates in their quest to prevent identity theft and crack down on thieves.

"There's no way we in law enforcement can do it alone," said Jan Scully, Sacramento County district attorney.

Sheriffs, legislators, postal workers and consumer watchdogs want to increase funding for prosecutors and for five state task forces dedicated to identity theft. Current funding is about $12.4 million per year.

Only about 11 percent of cases statewide are solved, Scully said.

For example, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department had more than 20,000 identity theft cases last year, said Jonathan Fairtlough, a county prosecutor. The county prosecuted only about 220 cases, he said.

California's high numbers could be partly the result of reporting requirements in state legislation designed to clamp down on identity theft, experts said.

In July 2003, California became the first state to require companies to notify consumers whenever security breaches expose personal data. In the most egregious cases, executives must also alert news organizations and issue news releases about security failures.

In addition, California is the only state where consumers can order a "credit freeze" with major credit bureaus. A freeze requires lenders, retailers, utilities and other businesses to get special access to credit reports through a PIN-based system and helps prevent impostors from getting any new loans and credit.

More than 9.9 million Americans were victims of identity theft last year, and the crimes cost more than $5 billion, not including lost productivity, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

Nearly one in 10 victims last year were from California, which had five of the nation's top 15 regions for identity fraud reports, according to Federal Trade Commission data released last month.