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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007 | Just because you don’t use meth doesn’t mean you are exempt from its effects. In fact, officials say you may be inadvertently supporting the meth epidemic.

Identity theft has been on the rise as has meth use, and the correlation between the two is becoming increasingly more apparent, according to local prosecutors and the county’s Methamphetamine Strike Force.

As a result, officials are hoping a new law — intended to reduce the number of meth-related identity thefts in San Diego County — will help counteract this frightening new trend.

Effective January 2007, AB 1066 n an expansion on a 2001 regulation, which only truncated customer receipts — will require that no more than the last five digits be printed on any electronically printed credit card receipt and will also prohibit the receipt from including the card’s expiration date.

Local businesses have until January 1, 2009 to comply, but despite the grace period, law enforcement officials are urging action now.

The issue of identity theft cannot be ignored. In 2006, 8 million U.S. residents were victims of identity theft in 2006, according to the California Office of Privacy Protection, with the average victim spending roughly $531 and 25 hours repairing the damage.

Law enforcement officials say they need businesses to truncate receipts to protect their customers from identity thieves, many of whom trade consumer data directly for methamphetamine or use receipts as easy sources of illicit income.

“I don’t think most people see the clear connection between methamphetamine and identity thefts — at least not yet,” said Damon Mosler, head of the District Attorney’s Office Narcotics Division. “But these crimes are often connected and they pose a serious threat to the public and the business community.”

Unfortunately, the meth connection has become more prevalent.

Cases involving both methamphetamine and identity theft jumped 35 percent between 2003 and 2006, according to the District Attorney’s Office. In addition, an informal survey of district attorney investigators and law enforcement officials showed that at least 75 percent of suspects in local I.D. theft cases showed evidence of methamphetamine abuse.

Local investigators specializing in paper crimes say it is not uncommon for meth addicts to stay awake for days at a time, hacking into computers, stealing mail, counterfeiting checks, forging documents and acquiring goods to sell for quick cash to feed their habit.

Many businesses aren’t taking note of the new law or have yet to make compliance with it a priority, according to Jay Foley, head of the San Diego run Identity Theft Resource Center.

The business’ primary focus is on business and making money, not on the fact that the customer is at risk, Foley said. “There are a tremendous number of businesses that run the full credit card numbers on their receipts.”

Scott Alevy, vice president of public policy at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the real issue is not non-compliance but simply unawareness. “[The law] is news to me,” Alevy said. “What is required of us? What do we need to do?”

Alevy said cost is also a concern.

“We have 3,000 members. 80 percent of them have less than 100 employees and 54 percent of them have less than 10 employees,” Alevy said. “If there is a real big overt in cost, it is going to affect the small businesses.”

Businesses may be able to make the transition a little easier thanks to payment processing providers such as First Data Corp. The company provides credit card terminals to San Diego County banks and local businesses.

“All of First Data’s proprietary terminals are compliant and we are working with our vendors that we certify to ensure compliance by the time the law takes effect” said Elizabeth Grice Director of Marketing Communications at First Data Corp.

Sarah Heilbrunn is a San Diego native and is currently an intern at the Institute for Public Strategies. In the fall, she will begin her fourth year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. You can contact her at sheilbrunn@publicstrategies.org

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