JEFFERSON CITY — Identity theft penalties would be increased from six months in jail to a life sentence under a bill initially approved by the House on Wednesday.
The bill also imposes the penalty of a Class B felony for trafficking in stolen identities.
Missouri ranks 18th among reported identity theft victims in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Missouri reported 2,558 cases of identity theft in 2002 and 161,819 cases nation-wide, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Web site lists.
The bill’s handler, Rep. Jason Brown, R-Platte City, said he and his wife were victims of identity theft a few years ago, and law enforcement officials also brought the issue to him.
In floor debate, Rep. Barbara Fraser, D-St. Louis County, said the harm caused by identity theft goes beyond monetary damages.
“It is a far greater loss in many cases than the financial loss because of the hassles — because of clearing one’s name,” she said.
Brown said the crime of identity theft has increased in recent years with commerce over the Internet and phone.
“A lot of times vendors and consumers will not have a face-to-face meeting,” he said. “They don’t know each other on a personal, first-name basis.”
Cases of identity theft often go unreported because of weak penalties and an uncertainty of the proper avenues for reporting the crime, Brown said. People often don’t discover they have been victims of identity theft until months or years after the theft occurs, he said.
The House is expected to take a final vote on the bill today before it moves to the Senate.