Phishing in California is now punishable by law after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill Friday making identity theft illegal.

The State Senate approved Bill 355 in August, and moved it to the governor's desk in September. The bill now makes it illegal for anyone to solicit, request or induce a consumer to provide personal information by using email, Web sites or the Internet to fraudulently impersonate a legitimate business.

The bill, pushed through the state Legislature by Sen. Kevin Murray (D-Los Angeles), is the first of its kind in the United States, making the scam a civil violation. Victims in California can now seek to recoup up to $500,000 for each violation, according to the bill.

''The FBI says this is a growing concern nationwide, costing consumers in the past two years alone more than $190 million,'' Murray said in a statement. ''Authorities say California experiences more than 15 percent of all phishing scams -- the most in the nation, and we need to stop it with strong penalties.''

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