Iowa proposes ID theft 'passport'

Document is meant to prove somebody was a victim of identity theft, protect against fraudulent credit charges.

Lawmakers in Iowa are proposing a special "passport" meant to protect victims of identity theft against false criminal action and credit charges.

The "Identity Theft Passport" will be a card or certificate that victims of identity fraud can show to police or creditors to help demonstrate their innocence, Tom Sands, a state representative of the Iowa House and supporter of the proposal, said in an e-mail interview Tuesday.

"I am a banker, when I am not in the legislature, and have witnessed the results of stolen identity," Sands said. "I continue to see and hear about Internet frauds that try to get information to steal a person's identity, so it only seems identity theft will become a greater problem."

The passport can be presented to law enforcement officials to help prevent arrest or detention for an offense committed by someone using the victim's identity, according to the text of the bill proposing the measure. Also, victims could show it to creditors to help in any investigation and establish whether there has been any fraud, according to the proposal.

However, it is up to the law enforcement agency and creditor to decide whether to accept the passport after considering the circumstances of the case, Sands said.

Even though Iowa is not one of the states that is hit hardest by identity fraud, issuing identification to victims "makes a lot of sense," said James Van Dyke, an analyst at Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton, Calif., which researches identity fraud.

"The process of issuing official paperwork or cards to allow individuals to identify themselves to law enforcement that they have been victims of identity fraud should help end the perpetrator's spree of crime," Van Dyke said.

The idea for the identity theft passport came from a Republican legislator in Ohio who was a victim of identity fraud, Sands said. "A number of states are now considering the identity theft passport concept as the incidence of this crime continues to escalate across the nation," he said.

While a passport may make it easier for an ID fraud victim to cope with the problems the crime has caused them, the need for such a passport is actually a troubling sign, said Ray Everett-Church, a privacy expert.

"It shows how dismally bad the system is at coping with the aftermath of identity theft," he said. "It's a sad commentary that we have to issue people a 'get out of jail' card because our society can't figure out how to scrub bogus data from computerized databases."

Identity theft continues to plague consumers, topping the list of fraud complaints reported to the Federal Trade Commission last year. Consumers filed more than 255,000 identity theft reports to the FTC in 2005, accounting for more than a third of all complaints, the agency said in January.

To receive an Identity Theft Passport, a person would have to file a police report and then send it, along with an application form, to the Iowa Attorney General's office, according to the proposed bill.

The Identity Theft Passport proposal, House File 2506, passed the Iowa House of Representatives on Thursday. It is next to be considered by the state senate.

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