Mr. Chair, I want to pick up a bit on what we have just discussed. I know that it is not perhaps right on topic with some of the discussion pertaining to capping interest rates and things like that, but I want to talk about identity theft and the relationship credit cards have to identity theft.
My first couple of comments relate to a few comments made by the hon. member across the floor a few moments ago with respect to identity theft and credit cards. My colleague was quite correct in one thing. Right now, and I believe this is a tragedy, if someone is in possession of multiple pieces of personal identification that belong to someone else, it is not a crime. It is not a crime until that identification is used.
My hon. colleague suggested that is the way it should be because someone could stand outside a Kresge's or a department store with someone else's ID but we cannot charge the person because it is a free country until that person uses it. He suggests that we cannot really do anything about that.
I suggest the opposite. I think we can do something about it. I think the first thing we have to do is identify what personal information is and get a definition for it and identity theft in the Criminal Code of Canada.
The second thing we need to do is take action. We need to make it a crime for anyone to carry personal information that is not his or hers without the lawful consent of the individual whose identity that person is carrying, or without a lawful excuse. That is how we do it. My hon. colleague said that we cannot really do anything about it. Sure we can. There are recommendations upon recommendations from institutions like the Canadian Bankers Association on how to deal with this specific issue.
As a matter of fact, I plan to introduce, hopefully as early as next spring, a private member's bill dealing with identity theft. That is how we do it.
Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in North America. In 2002, the latest statistics I have available to me suggest that there were over 160,000 victims of identity theft in Canada. I would suggest that in 2004 we probably have closer to 250,000 or 300,000 victims of identity theft. That number is growing by leaps and bounds.
The relationship between identity theft and credit cards is simply this. Out of all the various ways in which identity theft can be perpetrated upon the public, and I am talking about phone fraud and bank fraud, the largest single aspect of identity theft is through credit card fraud. Over 42% of all identity theft violations deal with credit card fraud. Of that, over half is with new credit cards.
There are two ways in which one could perpetrate a crime with credit cards. One would be to steal a credit card. For example, someone walking down the street lifts somebody's wallet. The credit card is taken and the thief whips down to the nearest convenience store, supermarket, grocery store or Sears, forges the person's signature, uses the credit card, charges up a whole bunch of bills and then walks away from the crime.
The most serious aspect and the fastest growing component of credit card fraud is how people are getting new credit cards. This is very difficult to police.
How is it done? Here is how it works. It is pretty simple. In this day and age, there are over 600 credit cards or charge cards available in the marketplace. I think that number is increasing. Many times, credit card companies send out pre-authorized credit letters to some of their good clients. In other words, they send out a letter saying that the client is a valued customer of theirs and because the client has performed admirably with the responsibility the client has shown with respect to paying off the current account, the company says it pre-authorizes the client for a new credit card with a $20,000 limit.
Here is what happens. Many people who receive these letters are not in the market for a new credit card so they just chuck the letter in the garbage. What the identity thieves do then is literally go through people's garbage, pick out these letters and respond to them. They respond to the credit card company by saying, “I am John Doe and I am pre-authorized for a $20,000 limit on a new credit card”. They put the person's address on it or, more than likely, what they say is, ”My name is John Doe and I am accepting the offer for a $20,000 limit on a new credit card, but my address has changed. I do not live at 123 Elm Drive anymore. I have just moved”. Then they give the credit card company their own address.
What happens? A couple of weeks later in the mail comes a new credit card made out to John Doe and the new address. This person will take that credit card and start making charges. That is identity theft. Where do the charges ultimately go? The charges go back to John Doe, not the person who has committed the theft. This is the fastest growing crime in North America.
We are all victims of this. The other thing that happens is that this is a great cost to our economy. Again, statistics show that in 2002, with about 160,000 victims of credit card fraud or identity theft, there was about a $2.5 billion cost to the economy. I would suggest that in this day and age, two years later, the cost to the economy is closer to $5 billion.
We have to do something about this. It is a very serious crime. If we do not deal with it through legislation, we will not deal with it at all. That is what I am suggesting. We need legislation to deal with this problem.
Again, my hon. colleague across the floor suggested that there is nothing we can do. We can do something about it. That is why we are in this assembly. We are lawmakers. We see a problem, we identify a problem, we create a solution and we deal with it. That is what we need to do here.
There is a great proliferation of credit cards in Canada and throughout the world. We know that. That will not abate. That will not be something that causes people to ask for less credit. The credit card companies themselves clearly will increase the number of products and cards they offer. Knowing this and knowing that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in North America, recognizing that credit card fraud is the largest proponent of identity theft, why do we not just do something about it.
Yes, we can talk about insurance caps on credit cards. In my opinion the real problem is theft. Whether we self-regulate, self-police or cap credit cards, that does not solve the problem of what we do with people who steal our identities, use our credit cards and go on spending binges
Do members know that it takes over a thousand hours and costs over $675 per person for Canadians who has been victimized by identity theft. This is what it costs to try to rectify the situation. That is an inordinate amount of time and money that innocent victims have to deal with because they have been victimized.
We have an opportunity to fix the problem. All we need to do is pay some attention to the problem itself. I do not think we have a problem with capping expenses or the interest level charged by credit card companies. It goes far beyond that. I think we have a problem with people stealing identities. They are using credit cards for illicit purposes. That is the problem we should be talking about tonight, and that is what I want to address.
I am not going to talk about whether the government should be taking money from the gun registry and putting it into credit card fraud. We have to make a law because no law exists right now. We can do it. Why Parliament has waited this long to deal with a problem that is growing faster than any other crime in North America is beyond me.
Part of the reason I am speaking here tonight is that hopefully I will get some support from members opposite and on this side of the House next year when I introduce a private member's bill. I think it is a fairly simple fix to a very serious problem.
Once again, in my opinion, all we need to do to deal with the problem is this. First, clearly define personal information and identity theft in the Criminal Code of Canada. Second, make it a crime for individuals to possess someone else's personal information unless they have express consent from that individual or if there is a lawful excuse.
Let me give one final example of how ridiculous the situation is right now. A police officer can stop a car and with legitimate cause and purpose get the individual to open the trunk of the car. The police could find 500 credit cards made out to individuals across Canada, but that person cannot be charged with identity theft. It is very simple to say that the person did nothing wrong. We all know the difference between right and wrong. Believe me, if a person has 500 credit cards in his or her possession, he or she is about to commit a crime.
We cannot deal with it now because we have no legislation to do so. Let us ensure that we enact legislation to deal with the problem. Let us fix it.