Identity Theft

Stealing someone's credit card number is the easiest way to commit identity fraud. Thieves can find receipts left on tables in restaurants or in shopping bags, thrown away in a trash can or dumpster, or left behind at the gas pump.
Identity theft affects more than 600,000 people annually and accounted for 42 percent of all Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consumer fraud complaints in 2001. Approximately 43 percent of the more than 97,000 calls received on the FTC Identity Theft Hotline related to credit cards, including thieves opening unauthorized accounts or making charges on existing cards.
California passed the first law to thwart identity theft in 1999. It prohibits businesses from printing more than the last five digits of an account number. The law applies to any new cash register. Existing registers must be in compliance by Jan. 1, 2004. The law provides an exception for transactions in which the sole means of recording a person's credit card number is by handwriting or photocopying the card.
Today, seven more states--Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Virginia and Washington--have such laws. Arizona's law gives the attorney general the authority to investigate and enforce the law.
Louisiana retailers are liable to the cardholder for any damages and expenses, including attorney fees, incurred by unauthorized uses of the card. This damages clause "puts the teeth in the legislation," says Representative Daniel T. Flavin, bill sponsor.
Legislation is pending in Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Similar legislation is also pending on the federal level.