ST. PAUL - Minnesota state Sen. Dave Senjem held up his well-used black wallet containing his identification and credit cards, and explained identify theft so anyone could understand.
"Last week I lost this," the Rochester Republican said recently. "We all do it. I could only hope the dog ate it."
He found the wallet a few minutes later, but 8 million Americans a year do experience identify theft, a crime when someone uses a victim's credit cards, bank accounts and other personal information, often to ring up large bills in the victim's name. Once someone's ID is stolen, that person often has a long road to restore credit and, in some cases, to convince law enforcement authorities they were not running away from their bills.
To help prevent problems victims encounter after ID theft, Senjem and Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, are pushing for Minnesota action next year on legislation they first introduced two years ago setting up an "identify theft passport." The "passport," which could be a driver's license-like card, would tell financial institutions, law enforcement officers and others the victims that they are, indeed, victims and not the criminals.
Quam had no specifics about the passport, saying it would leave that up to legislative committees. He said he has not pushed the legislation until now because committees that would take up the issue were involved in too many other matters and that it made sense to first approve Real ID, a federal security standard for driver's licenses and other state-issued IDs.
Several states already have ID theft passports, dating back to 2005.
"Data breaches like we have seen recently with Equifax put the identity and financial health of millions of Minnesotans at risk," Quam said, adding that even Minnesota-based Target Corp. has lost customers' information to online hackers in recent years.
While high-tech thieves often are associated with identify theft, Quam said, it also could be someone stealing mail, such as happened this summer in his 5,000-population hometown. Or it could be a theft of a wallet, such as Senjem feared.
Often, the thieves use credit card or bank account numbers to make large purchases, leaving the victim to pay bills. That, in turn, can land the victims in legal trouble as their debt mounts and bank accounts are drained.
The Iowa attorney general's website explains that the passport law in that state allows victims to present it to law enforcement authorities "to help prevent their arrest for offenses committed by a person who stole their identity. The ID theft passport may also be presented to creditors to aid in the investigation of fraudulent charges and to consumer reporting agencies as an official notice of disputed charges on credit reports."
Senjem and Quam said they think it is the state's responsibility to issue the passports to help victims recover.
"We need to start thinking about the victims and how we can assist," Quam said.
He said it can take years to get over an ID theft incident. It could take weeks, months or years for someone to even know their ID had been stolen, Quam added, because the thieves may not start to use the victim's accounts until long after the theft.