ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s high level of identity theft complaints has prompted lawmakers to look for ways to prevent the problem and to help victims regain their footing later.
Members of the General Assembly have filed multiple bills, including one calling for a task force to study the issue and another to keep Social Security numbers private.
Another, introduced by Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, was heard Tuesday by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
Forehand’s HB 123 would require a person convicted of stealing another’s identity to pay restitution and would allow that victim’s record to be expunged.
Maryland has plenty of victims of identity crimes. State residents filed 4,612 identity theft complaints with the Federal Trade Commission last year. And, the region ranked 18th nationally for identity theft related complaints, while Maryland ranked 13th, according to the FTC.
The task force bill is moving forward, said Forehand, but it won’t provide relief quickly enough.
“I think we should have a task force,” Forehand said. “In the meantime, it is probably two years before a task force would even come out with a report that would help victims.”
Sen. Verna L. Jones, D-Baltimore, sponsor of the task force bill, said incremental findings can be acted upon while the panel does its work. And she just wants to get it right.
“You have people losing billions of dollars and years of their life,” Jones said. “I don’t think it is a long amount of time to get it right.”
Maryland consumer groups also want faster relief approved this legislative session, according to the executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.
“We are actually supporting the legislation that will do some specific things right away,” said Cheryl Hystad.
Her group supports the concept behind’s Forehand’s bill and a bill set to be introduced by Delegate Neil Quinter, D-Howard, which would allow consumers to freeze release of their credit report.
“If someone makes a request for a credit card, that sends up a request for a credit report that has been blocked, it will send up a red flag,” Quinter said.
The Consumer Rights Coalition also wants the Social Security number legislation to pass this year. Last year, the governor vetoed it after insurance groups opposed a ban on faxing the numbers.
All of the governor’s concerns have been addressed, said the bill’s House sponsor, Delegate Shane Pendergrass, D-Howard.
“I am trying to accomplish limiting the use of Social Security numbers to what they were intended for and that is Social Security,” Pendergrass said.
Forehand admits her bill to expunge records is just a start, “It doesn’t solve the whole problem.” Forehand said. “This might be just a beginning stopgap measure.”
Sen. John A. Giannetti Jr, D-Prince George’s, agrees. The Judicial Proceedings Committee member voted against an identity theft task force last year, but now calls himself a convert. And he said he sees Forehand’s bill as a good start.
“We need to recommend a wide array of technology-oriented bills so we can try to keep up with these criminals who are becoming more and more conniving and more sophisticated every year. It is almost like the Legislature can’t keep up with them,” Giannetti said. “We are going to see if we can come up with a net big enough to catch them.