When Los Angeles money manager Frank Troise discovered that one of his credit card numbers had been stolen electronically from an ATM machine in Hollywood, he decided to take action into his own hands.


Troise, the principal of money management firm Soho Capital LLC, initially tried to galvanize politicians in Sacramento to sponsor legislation with stiffer penalties for identity theft crimes. He even called on his own customers executives at major banks in California to find out what internal procedures were in place to protect consumers from identity thieves.


"No one would listen," said Troise. "Everyone told me that politically, identity theft was a non-starter for both Republicans and Democrats." The conservatives like the stiff penalties for the perpetrators, but don't want any liability assigned to the financial institutions, a provision liberals insist upon.


Undeterred, Troise decided to take his campaign against identity theft directly to the public. Earlier this year, he launched a ballot initiative over the Internet Stop Identity Theft in California that would make identity theft a felony, punishable with up to five years in prison and fines of $1,000 for each victim. He has 125,000 of the 500,000 signatures of 500,000 registered voters he needs to qualify for the November ballot. His deadline is June 12.


Though California has been on the forefront of legislation to combat identity theft, many privacy advocates believe banks and data companies are standing in the way of laws that would increase regulations on data providers. Consumer advocates say stiff penalties against identity theft won't deter crime and will lead to overcrowding of prisons.


Some legislators are trying to strike a middle ground by limiting the dissemination of personal data without targeting financial services firms directly.


Last week, the state Senate passed a bill sponsored by Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Redondo Beach) that requires retailers to remove credit card and bank account numbers from credit card receipts at stores and banks. The bill heads to the Assembly next month.


"In this day and age, there's no reason why retailers or banks need to print credit card numbers on the receipts they keep after a sale," said Bowen, who has authored several bills on identity theft. "The fewer places that a person's sensitive financial information appears in print, the more we reduce the odds that they'll become the state's next identity theft victim."


National problem
Identity theft became a major issue last year after a nonprofit consumer group in San Diego, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, disclosed that ChoicePoint Inc., a Georgia data broker, had sold consumer data to scam artists.

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