Bill aims to thwart identity thieves

Ever get a little annoyed when the clerk at the hardware store asks for your Social Security number to process your purchase?

Or when your check won't be accepted without your Social Security number written on it? Or when your Social Security number is used for every identifying marker in your life?

As the debate over whether to issue national identification numbers heats up, three senators want to protect Americans' Social Security numbers from being abused. Today, they introduced the Social Security Number Misuse Prevention Act to make it harder for potential identity thieves to obtain Social Security numbers by restricting public access to the numbers.

"The goal of this legislation is straightforward—to get Social Security numbers out of the public domain so that identity thieves can't access the number," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who was joined by Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in introducing the measure.

The same legislation was approved last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee but was stalled in an unrelated debate. This year, lawmakers hope to get it through Congress and help prevent the growing problem of identity theft.

The legislation would remove Social Security numbers from government checks and driver's licenses as well as public records available on the Internet. It also would prohibit the sale or display of Social Security numbers to the general public.

"Technology is advancing, but unfortunately, cybercrime is advancing right along with it," said Gregg. "An enormous amount of information is tied to a person's Social Security number. If that number falls into the hands of the wrong people, a person's identity can be stolen right along with the money in their bank account."

A recent Federal Trade Commission report said identity theft complaints were the most common fraud complaints consumers reported last year. Losses are estimated at $343 million last year as a result of identity theft.

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