53rd Senate District
George H. Winner, Jr.
George H. Winner, Jr.
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Identity theft costs American consumers an estimated $50 billion a year.

The New York State Senate has been holding public hearings over the past few years to give creditors, law enforcement officials, computer-security experts and others the opportunity to share their thoughts on mapping out more effective strategies to address a host of privacy concerns.

And if thereís a single concern that drives our caution in todayís online society, itís the issue commonly called "identity theft." Identity theft costs American consumers an estimated $50 billion a year. New York State ranks third in the nation in reported cases of identity theft, with more than 17,000 cases reported last year. The availability of information in computer databases and the rapid growth of Internet commerce has produced a new breed of criminals who abuse new technologies to steal consumer information and ruin consumer credit. Itís considered the No. 1 financial and consumer crime of this era.

As fast as technology changes, the tactics of todayís cybercriminals change even faster. A recently released computer-security study sounded the latest alarm: cybercriminals now exploit flaws in popular anti-virus and backup software to directly break into the computers of consumers, businesses and government agencies. This new tactic led one research expert to conclude that "security has been set back nearly six years in the past 18 months."

It all serves to highlight our ongoing challenge to keep identity theft laws ahead of identity thieves. New York became the 43rd state in the nation to enact an identity theft law in 2002. It established several levels of crime against the unlawful possession and use of personal identification information. But the latest security studies reveal yet again that we have to update our laws as frequently as cybercriminals update their ability to break them. Itís no easy task.

One new law approved during the 2005 session requires businesses and governments to provide public notification to make consumers aware when a security breach may have compromised their personal data. In 2006, among a few other measures, a new law was approved to enable consumers to place "security freezes" on their credit reports if they suspect they are victims of identity theft. A security freeze would prevent an identity thief from taking out new loans and credit under their victimís name. 

Iím looking forward to working with my colleagues on additional computer-security actions.

In the meantime, itís important for every consumer to be aware of identity theft, how itís committed and ways to protect against it. Toward this end, I'd like to bring to your attention new web site administered by the Federal Trade Commission, the nationís lead consumer protection agency, and the technology industry in an effort to further promote online safety. Itís called , and it provides a range of tips and information to help all of us guard against Internet fraud, better protect our personal information and secure our computers. Itís worth checking out.

A popular Senate brochure, "Identity Theft," overviews existing New York laws, offers tips on how to minimize risk and highlights steps to take if you fear your identity has been stolen. To obtain a copy, click below on CONTACT INFO to submit your e-mail request.


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