Pearson bill goes after illegal ‘skimming’ of personal information

House Human Services and Corrections Committee, February 5, 2014.On Tuesday the Senate Law and Justice Committee held a public hearing on a measure sponsored by Sen. Kirk Pearson that would make it harder for identity thieves to use increasingly-sophisticated “skimming” technology to acquire access to victims’ personal financial information.

“Identity theft is a horrible crime that can follow a victim for years,” said Pearson, R-Monroe. “Having your personal or banking information stolen and used for financial fraud doesn’t just cost you time and money, it can also lead to harassment from debt collectors, inaccurate and life- threatening medical records and even false imprisonment.

“This bill deals with the growing technology that organized identity-theft rings are using to prey on victims and make their lives a living nightmare.”

Unlawful possession of instruments of financial fraud is already a class C felony. Instruments used to commit financial fraud may include stolen checks, credit cards or debit cards; fake checks with fictitious names or accounts; fake identification cards; or equipment to produce fake driver’s licenses or checks.

Pearson’s measure, Senate Bill 5069, would create an additional crime for possession of a device to receive financial information with the intent to commit financial fraud.

“My bill would make it a class C felony to possess one of these skimming devices, which may include anything from wireless devices and magnetic-card readers to video recorders and ATM overlays,” said Pearson, a member of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “Senate Bill 5069 is an important step in protecting all Washingtonians from falling prey to these criminals, and making it more costly for those who commit these crimes.”

Prosecutors and members of law enforcement testified in support of the measure, saying that the time to act on these crimes is now.

“Skimming is a problem that I used to say was the future,” said Melinda Young with the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s economic crimes unit, “but I would say at this point that the future is here.

“…This bill addresses a serious gap in our laws; if you possess a skimmer with the intent to commit a crime, that in and of itself is not [currently] a crime.”

Young explained that law enforcement and prosecutors have no way to charge those who are caught in the process of skimming information prior to actually using that information to steal funds.

Detective Shelby Shearer with the Bellevue Police Department told lawmakers that the bill would also help police identify the potential victims of criminal rings. “By making this crime a felony, it gives us an opportunity to hold these criminals in jail, and conduct a thorough investigation,” he said.

A similar bill introduced by Pearson in 2014 passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support, but had not received a final vote in the House of Representatives when the short 60-day session adjourned.