Governor Doyle: Signs Legislation to Protect Wisconsin Residents from Identity Theft

Contact: Anne Lupardus, Office of the Governor, 608-261-2162

BROOKFIELD – Governor Jim Doyle today signed three bills that will help protect Wisconsin residents from becoming victims of identity theft. Approximately 10 million Americans each year discover that their personal information has been used to open fraudulent bank accounts, credit cards, or utility accounts, or used to commit crimes.

“By acquiring just a small amount of information, identity thieves can destroy a person’s financial reputation, and cause endless stress on a person and their family,” Governor Doyle said. “Today, we are putting additional protections in place to prevent personal or financial information from getting in the hands of identity thieves, and giving consumers additional tools to protect themselves.”

Governor Doyle signed Senate Bill 164, which requires businesses to notify customers if their personal information has been stolen.

Data breaches can occur when computer systems are hacked, dishonest employees sell information, or when businesses simply lose information. In June of 2005, a credit card processor called CardSystems exposed the personal information of more than 40 million credit card holders after their system was hacked. Also in June of 2005, CitiFinancial lost back-up tapes with the personal information of 3.9 million customers.

“Getting the personal information of consumers is the first step in identity theft,” Governor Doyle said. “And if consumers don’t know their information has been compromised, they can’t take steps to protect themselves. Right now, companies in Wisconsin are not legally obligated to notify customers when personal information has been stolen. Senate Bill 164 changes that, and I am pleased to sign it into law.”

Governor Doyle thanked Senators Ted Kanavas, Cathy Stepp, and Dave Hansen, as well as Representatives Jeff Fitzgerald, Mark Gundrum, and Dave Cullen for their work on the bill.

Governor Doyle also signed Assembly Bill 536, which prohibits Registers of Deeds from recording documents that include a person’s social security number. Documents recorded by the Registers of Deeds are public and must be provided to those who request them.

“With your Social Security number, a thief can obtain a credit card in your name, apply for a job or government benefits, open a bank account, or even get a loan based on your credit,” Governor Doyle said. “By prohibiting social security numbers from being recorded, we are ensuring that documents available to the public don’t reveal vital personal information. And we will eliminate what is now a reservoir of information for identity thieves.”

“Public records held by the register of deeds are a huge repository of people’s identifying personal information,” Representative Louis Molepske added. “These public records are not only viewed in our courthouses, but are increasingly being posted on the Internet – making them available for the entire world to see. Social Security numbers have no purpose on these documents and their omission will eliminate one more tool of identity thieves.”

Governor Doyle thanked Representatives Louis Molepske, Jr. and Mary Williams, as well as Senators Dave Hansen and Russ Decker for their work on the bill.

Finally, Governor Doyle signed Assembly Bill 912, which requires credit reporting agencies to allow consumers for a cost no more than $10.00 to place a “security freeze” on their credit report, giving them the ability to say when and to whom their credit information is released.

“Credit reports contain a wealth of personally identifiable information which, in the wrong hands, can easily lead to identity theft,” Governor Doyle said. “I am pleased to sign this bill, which will give consumers some peace of mind and another tool to protect their personal information.”

Governor Doyle thanked Representatives Jeff Fitzgerald and Brett Davis, as well as Senators Luther Olsen, Scott Fitzgerald, and Jon Erpenbach for their work on this bill.