A Growing Epidemic

Mar 212006
Authors: Legislative Aide to Representative McCluskey Janel Sutton

Being young and a college student opens up a world of opportunities, hopes and aspirations. Most of these involve someday owning a house, a nice car, or being able to establish yourself in the work force. Getting your identity stolen can take these dreams and destroy them as quickly as they entered your mind. This “stealing” of an identity is defined as the unauthorized taking of a person’s social security number, credit card information, bank account numbers or checking account information. This crime can damage your credit, which makes receiving future loans or obtaining additional credit difficult. Colorado is currently one of the top five states in the nation for the number of identity thefts reported. While our great state is very high on this list, it is very low on the list of actual convictions of this crime.

Right now identity theft is not in current Colorado statutes. It falls under the category of the criminal behavior of theft, fraud and impersonation. House Bill 1326, sponsored by Rep. Bill Crane, R-Arvada, would make identity theft a crime in Colorado. Ideally, the passage of this bill would decrease the amount of criminal activity in this area. Current data has demonstrated that the dramatic increase in identity theft is connected to the rapidly expanding numbers of methamphetamine users. Because of the lighter penalties in Colorado for identity theft, many meth users come here and use this as a way to fund their drug habits.

HB 1326 provides for a conviction on the grounds of identity theft and would make this crime a felony that is punishable by mandatory sentencing of two years in prison. This establishes the following acts as criminal behavior: using a person’s financial and personal information, using bank accounts and making unauthorized credit card purchases. Also, the act of only possessing this personal information without using it would be classified as a misdemeanor.

Last year a similar bill was introduced, but there was not enough support to ensure its passage. Crane believes that with the increasing number of incidents in Colorado and constituent concern, both Chambers will express support for this bill. The bill has been passed through the House Judiciary Committee and on to the Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Bob McCluskey found this was a recurring issue when he walked neighborhoods in Fort Collins earlier this fall. McCluskey supports the passage of this bill saying that, “this issue has risen to epidemic proportions” and states that Crane has been working tirelessly for several years on similar legislation. The bill also has widespread support from the district attorney’s office, sheriffs, police chiefs and numerous leaders involved in the criminal justice system. They understand that the number of identity thefts will keep rising in Colorado if something is not done to deter these thieves from performing these acts.

This growing epidemic of identity theft is harming college students and others statewide, prompting law enforcement to respond by increasing punishment. This bill would protect Colorado’s citizens from putting their dreams on hold because their identity has been stolen.

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