Good morning. I am State Rep. Bernie O'Neill from the 29th
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
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
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
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.