Robert Hartle felt like a victim. After all, a thief impersonating him racked up more than $10,000 in credit card debt, bought a house, got hired and fired and even got a speeding ticket in Hartle's name.

Hartle's credit was ruined and his life forever changed, he said. But under the law, he could do little to stop the thief or complain about the damage.Banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions are considered the victims when a thief gets hold of someone else's credit information and wreaks havoc.

Too often, those institutions figure they've already lost money and won't do much, if anything, to help catch the thief, consumer advocates and victims of financial crime told a Senate subcommittee Wednesday.

"Due to shortcomings in state and federal law at the time this was occurring, I received very little assistance from law enforcement authorities," Hartle said. "In addition, the business community was not sympathetic."

The Senate may vote this year on legislation to make the person whose identity is stolen a victim under federal law. That would mean someone like Hartle could complain directly to police and the Federal Trade Commission.

Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., wants to model federal law after a law in Arizona that Hartle, a Phoenix resident, helped inspire. Kyl's bill would elevate identity theft crimes to felonies and toughen federal prison sentences for the thieves.

The bill, which would make the FTC a clearinghouse for reporting identity theft crimes, has support from the FTC.

"One way to compensate consumer victims of identity theft for their undeserved hardship would be to recognize them as crime victims and to grant them rights of restitution," said David Medine, associate director for credit practices at the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Hartle said he and his wife spent about $15,000 trying to investigate the case on their own and repair their credit. The thief was convicted and is serving a four-year prison term in Arizona, Hartle said.

"When this one individual got my identity, he did as many crimes as he could do in my name," Hartle testified at a Senate on the bill.