TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Shirley K. Turner which would increase consumer protections from identity theft in New Jersey and allow victims greater ability to clear their names was signed into law today by Governor Codey.
“Identity theft is one of the most insidious crimes out there, because it turns a person’s good credit against them, racking up debt for someone else’s illegal purchases,” said Senator Turner, D-Mercer. “In the Internet Era, information is oftentimes more valuable than material possessions, and anyone can become a victim at any time. However, with the proper precautions in place, New Jersey can help guard our residents from this particular type of victimization and ensure that consumers are not helpless to identity theft.”
The new law, a Senate committee substitute for S-1914, S-2154, S-2155, S-2440, S-2441, and S-2524, will provide a broad array of protections against identity theft and actions that could be taken by victims of identity theft to restore their good name. The law will require credit bureaus to allow individuals to place a security freeze on their credit reports. A security freeze is a mechanism by which an individual can block access to their credit report until they personally remove the block. Security freezes can help prevent identity thieves from taking out additional credit in the name of their victims.
The bill also will prohibit any public or private entity from publicly posting Social Security numbers, printing them on any card used to access services, or intentionally communicating them to the general public. In addition, no individual will be required to transmit his or her Social Security number over the Internet unless the connection is secure or to use his or her Social Security number to access an Internet website unless a password is also required to access the site.
“Every day, we use social security numbers as pass codes for bank Web sites, to obtain student information at colleges, and so many other uses, and if a thief was able to compromise that number, they’d be able to wreak havoc in so many areas of our personal lives,” said Senator Turner. “With greater controls on how, where, and when we use our social security numbers as an identifier, we will greatly cut down on the possibility for criminals to co-opt our identities.”
Additionally, the bill will require local law enforcement agencies to take a police report from a person who reasonably believes he or she is the victim of identity theft and provide him or her with a copy of the report.
“A police report will give victims of identity theft a legitimate document to prove that they have been defrauded, and will allow them an opportunity to begin picking up the pieces of their lives,” said Senator Turner. “A criminal with a stolen identity can do much more than charge a few hundred dollars’ worth of merchandise to your American Express, and it is imperative that anyone who believes they may be a victim come forward to their local law enforcement agencies to take the first step to reclaim their identity.”
Senator Turner added that other provisions of the bill will require businesses in New Jersey to take greater precautions against a thief stealing records with sensitive information on them, and will require businesses to destroy records they no longer need when sensitive information is accessible. Also, businesses would be required to report to consumers when they have a reasonable belief that the consumers’ identifying information may have been compromised by an unauthorized person.
A reckless, willful or knowing violation of the new law will be considered an offense under the Consumer Fraud Act. The penalties for such a violation would be triple the damages to the victim plus legal fees and costs. The Attorney General will also be able to seek injunctive action against the individual or company to prevent further illegal actions.
The bill passed both the Senate and the Assembly by unanimous votes in June.