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Prepared Witness Testimony
The Committee on Energy and Commerce
W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, Chairman

Identity Theft: Assessing the Problem and Efforts to Combat It.
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
December 15, 2003
10:00 AM
Middletown Township Municipal Building, 3 Municipal Way, Langhorne, Pennsylvania


The Honorable Bernard T. O'Neil
Pennsylvania State Representative

5 East Wing
Harrisburg, PA, 17120


Good morning. I am State Rep. Bernie O'Neill from the 29th Legislative District in central Bucks County.

Identity thieves steal more than $1 billion a year from unsuspecting and unprepared consumers. In the bulk of the cases, the consumers don't know how their identities were stolen. Credit card fraud accounts for 42 percent of the complaints, followed by scams where phone or utility accounts were created in a person's name without his or her knowledge.

While these criminals make thousands of dollars at their victim's expense, the victim is left with years of anguish and frustration trying to sort out and restore his good name and credit or clear a criminal record.

I'm here today to share with you how identity theft has grown, especially here in Bucks County and what we're trying to do to stop it. While the other witnesses today will go into the staggering statistics and efforts being undertaken to combat identity theft, I'm here to put a face on this appalling crime.

Anyone can become a target of identity theft. Thieves are stealing personal information from a number of different sources, including credit card receipts, birth certificates and Social Security cards. Just putting your bills in your mailbox to be sent out is a sign to a would-be identity thief that you are an easy target.

To educate my constituents about this growing crime, I am holding public forums on identity theft throughout my legislative district. These forums will continue through February.

These forums have been very well attended, with 50 to 60 people coming out for our first forum in Solebury on Nov. 14, 2003. We have had presentations by local law enforcement officials, including Chief Richard Mangan of Solebury Township Police Department, Chief Henry "Rick" Pasqualini of the New Hope Borough Police Department, and representatives from the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office and the United States Postal Inspection Service.

Dates are being finalized for the series of upcoming identity theft forums throughout the 29th legislative district. January programs have been scheduled in Buckingham Township with Police Chief Stephen Daniels, Warminster Township with Police Chief Jim Gorczynski, and a second evening forum in New Hope-Solebury, with Chief Richard Mangan and Chief Henry "Rick" Pasqualini. February programs have been scheduled in Warwick Township with Police Chief Joe Costello, and Upper Southampton Township with Police Chief David Schultz. Topics have included tips on avoiding identity theft, ways in which identity theft occurs, and why students as well as senior citizens are targeted.

It is sad that victims do not become aware their identities have been stolen until they get astronomical credit card statements, cell phone bills, or other charges.

I can personally attest that obtaining this information is far too easy. From personal experience, my phone number was stolen and for three months my phone bill exceeded $300 in toll charges. That number was used from a pay phone in New York City. And my case is minor compared to other stories that have been shared with me. Even local law enforcement officials are identity theft victims.

As a state legislator, I have been involved in helping make identity theft less attractive to would-be thieves. Last year, a new law was enacted that escalates the penalties for this crime. Through legislation introduced by Rep. Matt Baker from Wellsboro, Tioga County, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has taken steps to increase the penalties for identity theft, making a first offense of the crime a felony of the third degree, carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. A third or subsequent offense raises the crime to a felony of the second degree with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

I am hopeful these forums will help residents become more educated about identity theft and will learn how they can protect themselves and their identities. There's nothing more frustrating than finding out that your whole identity has been stolen and used for fraudulent purposes.