Law aims to help victims of identity theft

Law aims to help victims of identity theft

8/29/2007 – It came to the attention of state officials that many people who felt their identity had been stolen or tampered with were walking out of police stations frustrated because no one paid attention to them.

That shouldn’t happen any longer. There’s a new law on the books aimed at ensuring that victims of identity theft will now walk out with a police report in hand.

This summer, Gov. Eliot Spitzer signed legislation — proposed by the state Consumer Protection Board — requiring police departments to take a report from a suspected victim of identity theft.

“A police report is an important first step in repairing the damage caused by identity theft,” said Mindy A. Bockstein, chairwoman and executive director of the Consumer Protection Board. “Some police departments are not aware of the importance of this piece of paper, or, for other reasons, were reluctant to encourage victims to actually file a report for identity theft.”

Victims were blocked from filing reports for a variety of reasons, Bockstein said. They were told by officers “we can’t do anything about it; it happened in another jurisdiction; we’re too busy; it won’t do any good; and this has been going on for awhile,” she said.

Bockstein gained a reputation as an advocate for crime victims while working for Spitzer when he was attorney general. She said she found victims experienced a great deal of frustration. “It was not every police department, … and I don’t want to paint with a big brush,” she said.

But in many cases, victims needing help were told to go to another precinct where they were also turned away, and they felt victimized again, Bockstein said.

On the other hand, there were those agencies that were very responsive, she said. “There was no good uniform procedure or standard, and it put a lot of victims in unfortunate circumstances.”

A police report is vital, she said. Without one, victims are at a disadvantage when going to creditors, getting a free credit report and getting access to business transaction records, including receipts from stores, she said.

In 2006, a national study by the Federal Trade Commission on incidences and consequences of identity theft showed 8 percent of victims notified their local police, but a formal report was not taken, while 30 percent filed a police report and 62 percent never notified police.

The Consumer Protection Board plans efforts to educate New Yorkers about the new law and what to do if they believe someone is using their Social Security number or other personal information, the chairwoman said.

The law requires police to take a report and give victims a free copy.

The Consumer Protection Board worked for passage with Sen. Charles Fuschillo, a Long Island Republican who chairs the Senate Consumer Protection Committee, and Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, a Queens Democrat and chairwoman of the Assembly’s Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee.

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