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Wayne Post
  • TOM O’MARA: Don’t let identity theft spoil season

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  • Last week I was glad to share a reminder about the difference we all can make for the region’s small businesses throughout the holidays by remembering to “shop small.” That message should remain first and foremost throughout the busy days and weeks ahead. But there’s no ignoring the beginning of a rush of online purchasing that, according to reports, generates more than $1 billion in spending by American consumers.
    One thing we know for a fact about our rapid, global march into the world of e-commerce is that it’s become big, big business. But we also must recognize that there’s an unprecedented exchange of online information going on, which compels this reminder: Don’t overlook the privacy and other public policy issues raised by our leap into this segment of the modern economy.
    The New York State Senate has held a number of legislative hearings over the years to give creditors, law enforcement officials, computer security experts and others the opportunity to share their thoughts on mapping out more effective strategies to address a host of privacy concerns. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, representatives of six Senate committees gathered at the Griffiss Institute in Rome to hear fresh testimony from experts on cyber-crime. The concerns run the gamut, but inevitably they include one that’s become commonly known as “identity theft,” arguably the overriding fear underlying today’s online economy.
    It’s been noted in the past that identity theft costs more than 8 million American consumers an estimated $40 billion annually. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2012, New York State ranked sixrth in the nation in per-capita identity theft complaints. It’s clear that the availability of information in computer databases and the rapid growth of Internet commerce have produced a new breed of criminals who abuse technologies to steal consumer information and ruin consumer credit. Indeed, identity theft is widely considered the No. 1 and fastest-growing financial and consumer crimes of this era.
    The tactics of today’s cybercriminals change as fast as our technology, usually faster. It all serves to highlight the ongoing challenge to keep identity theft laws ahead of identity thieves. A decade ago, New York became the 43rd state in the nation to enact an identity theft law. But security studies continually point to the need to update our laws as frequently as cybercriminals update their ability to break them. It’s no easy task.
    One important new law approved a few years ago enabled consumers to place a “security freeze” on their credit reports if they suspect they are victims of identity theft. We’ve also strengthened New York’s identity theft protections by enacting laws to restrict the ability of employers to use an employee’s personal information and to allow identity theft victims to obtain restitution equal to the value of the time they spend fixing the damage, which is substantial.
    Page 2 of 2 - The first line of defense is for every consumer to be aware of identity theft, how it’s committed and ways to protect against it. The FTC, the nation’s lead consumer protection agency, operates a website to promote online safety. Go to www.ftc.gov and click on the “Fighting Back Against Identity Theft” icon on the home page. Information can also be found on the New York State Division of Consumer Protection’s website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.
    If you’d like a copy of a well-received New York State Senate brochure, “Protect Yourself from Identity Theft,” just e-mail your request to me at: omara@nysenate.gov.
    State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, represents the 58th District, which includes the Southern Tier and portions of the southern Finger Lakes.

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