2009-10-01 / Top Stories

City Has Tougher Plan To Protect New Yorkers From ID Theft

Mayor Bloomberg this week announced a comprehensive plan to help prevent fraud and identity theft, in addition to providing greater assistance to the victims of these crimes.

The plan will increase public awareness of potentially compromising situations and create a set of “Best Practices” for businesses that handle personal information.

Last year, nearly 12,000 New Yorkers became victims of identity theft, the fastest growing crime in the country. Making matters worse, many people feel powerless and do not know where to turn when they learn they are victims of this crime. According to a Federal Trade Commission report, in two-thirds of identity theft cases the victims did not contact the police.

“While we’ll never be able to completely eliminate the threat of identity theft, we can take some basic steps to make it as rare as possible,” said the mayor. “Limiting the number of opportunities for would be thieves and making it easier for the victims to get back on their feet are just two ways common sense ways we can lessen the impact of identity theft.”

Under Bloomberg, the city has created new and innovative programs designed to prevent New Yorkers from becoming victims of identity fraud, as well as assist victims of identity theft. The Mayor started “Shred Fest,” an annual free paper-shredding event, to increase public awareness for identity theft prevention. He also signed three laws to protect New Yorkers: Businesses required to be licensed by the DCA must now immediately inform the department upon notification of a potential breach of someone’s identify information.

In addition, City agencies that own or lease data containing personal identifying information must notify the police department and the victim if any individual’s personal identifying information is believed to have been acquired by an unauthorized person.

Finally, any person required to be licensed by DCA or subject to DCA enforcement must discard records of individual personal identifying information in a manner that would prevent retrieval of the information.

The plan will:

•Require Warning Signs for Users of Public Computers and Wireless Internet: Individuals are particularly vulnerable to identity theft when they use public computers and wireless internet connections in internet cafes, coffee shops and other public venues. Mayor Bloomberg will enact a local law requiring businesses that provide public computers or wireless internet access to post signs warning customers of the risk of using the connection for making purchases or sending any form of personal or financial information.

Promote Information Encryption to Prevent Identity Theft: Under the Mayor’s leadership, the City will work to improve its own data storage procedures and policies by upgrading the encryption capability of databases and working to make sure that personally identifiable information is stored on portable devices when encrypted and password protected, with the capability of remote deletion of data. The city will also explore ways to encourage businesses to encrypt any sensitive information to limit the risk of identity theft.

•Work with Businesses to Prevent Identity Theft: The City will engage in a business outreach program to inform businesses about the requirements of the law, such as blocking out all but the last 4 digits on a receipt and the expiration date, and why they are necessary.

•Develop “Best Practices” for Businesses: The Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) will develop standards and business practices regarding the taking, retention, storage and disposal of personal identifying information for businesses that are licensed by DCA, as well as offer helpful tips to business owners of how to prevent themselves from falling victim to identity theft and fraud.

Should businesses continue to fail to comply with the law, DCA will issue warnings and violations when necessary.

•Provide Better Services for Victims of Identity Theft: Anyone who has ever been a victim of identity theft knows how difficult it can be to right the situation. The City will partner with non-profit organizations to provide better direct services to the victims of identity theft and help them to navigate the maze of government and private bureaucracy that is required to clear their names.

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