TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would provide substantial protections for New Jersey’s consumers from identity theft, and give them the tools to prove their innocence after a theft takes place was signed into law today by Governor Codey.
“In today’s high-tech world, we’re learning more and more that a criminal with a stolen social security number can be a very dangerous thing,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “With the right information, a thief can run up thousands of dollars in illegal purchases, all the while leaving you holding the bag for their shopping spree. The damage done to an individual’s credit history from identity theft can be lasting and substantial, but with the right tools we can make identity theft cases less frequent and less devastating when they do happen.”
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.
“So often, it’s the social security number that’s pilfered off of an unsecured Web connection that’s the gateway to illegal activity,” said Senator Vitale. “Many people in New Jersey don’t understand just how valuable a social security number is, but in the wrong hands, it can cause a lot of trouble.”
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.
“While credit fraud is usually the most common result from identity theft, it’s possible for the thief to commit all sorts of crimes under their stolen identity, particularly on the World Wide Web, where you’re only as anonymous as a username and a password,” said Senator Vitale. “A police report will allow victims of identity theft to have an official document to point back to when trying to establish their innocence from whatever crimes were falsely committed in their name.”
Senator Vitale 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.