This week Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), joined by Rep. George Gekas (R-Pa.), introduced H.R. 5588, the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2002, to increase penalties on identity theft crimes.   The legislation mirrors S. 2541, introduced by Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), which was developed in coordination with the Justice Department to help law enforcement capture and prosecute serious identity thieves. 

“I am very pleased to be introducing this legislation today with Rep. Gekas.  With over 500,000 victims last year alone, identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. One in five American families have been victimized by identity theft,” said Smith.  “Our legislation makes it easier for prosecutors to target those identity thieves who steal an identity for the purpose of committing other serious crimes, including murder and terrorism.”

H.R. 5588 would create a separate crime of “aggravated identity theft” for any person who uses the identity of another person to commit certain serious, federal crimes.  Specifically, the legislation would provide for an additional two-year penalty for any individual convicted of committing one of the following serious federal crimes while using the identity of another person.  This includes stealing another person's identity in order to illegally obtain citizenship in the United States; obtain a passport or visa; commit bank, wire or mail fraud, or steal from employee pension funds; and commit a variety of other serious federal crimes, all of them felonies. 

It would also provide an additional five-year penalty for any individual who uses the stolen identity of another person to commit any one of the enumerated federal terrorism crimes found in Title 18.  These crimes include the destruction of aircraft; assassination or kidnapping of high-level federal officials; bombings; hostage taking and providing material support to terrorist organizations. 

Third, this bill also strengthens the ability of law enforcement to go after identity thieves and prove cases by permitting law enforcement to target individuals who possess the identity documents of another person with the intent to commit a crime.  Current federal law prohibits the transfer or use of false identity documents, but does not specifically ban the possession of those documents with the intent to commit a crime.  H.R. 5588 also increases the maximum penalty for identity theft under current law from three years to five years. 

Fourth, the bill clarifies that the current 25-year maximum sentence for identity theft in facilitation of international terrorism also applies to domestic terrorism. 

Rep. Adam Smith has long been committed to fighting identity theft and has introduced H.R. 5424, which is designed to aid victims of identity theft recover their identities, protect their credit ratings and empower law enforcement with the tools to more effectively track down violators.  That legislation, also introduced with Rep. Gekas, is currently pending before the House Judiciary Committee.