Law may be needed for identity theft, says privacy chief

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 May, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 May, 2004, 12:00am

Hong Kong should consider legislating against identity theft, with technological advances expected to make the problem worse, said Privacy Commissioner Raymond Tang Yee-bong.

Speaking after a talk on the prevention of identity theft yesterday, Mr Tang said the government should study whether to follow examples from overseas, such as the US, which in 1998 made identity theft an offence with a maximum penalty of 15 years in jail.

'The problem of identity theft is expected [to get worse] with technological development. It's worth considering,' he said.

But Chief Inspector Gloria Yu Yin-ching from the Commercial Crime Bureau said existing laws were sufficient in dealing with the various forms of identity theft, such as the use of forged credit cards.

'There is no evidence to show that the problem is now out of control,' Chief Inspector Yu said, but added that the government would take action if the problem became as serious as that in the US.

Nearly 10 million people suffered identity theft in the US last year, causing a loss of US$47.6 billion to businesses and $5 billion to victims.

US authorities estimated that between 1998 and 2003, 27.3 million people had information, such as credit card account numbers or Social Security numbers, misused to fraudulently buy products or establish credit for another person.

In Hong Kong, Chief Inspector Yu said police kept the figures for different types of identity theft separately. About 2,200 counterfeit credit cards were seized in 2002 and 1,599 last year.

Police arrested 128 people for credit card fraud in 2002 and 199 last year.

Chief Inspector Yu cited a case in 2002 where a syndicate identified victims by copying the number plates of expensive cars and obtaining the drivers' details.

Mr Tang said his department was discussing ways to improve privacy protection in Hong Kong, but he said the issue was complicated because of the public's right to access information.