While advances in technology have forever transformed and streamlined commercial and administrative processes, they also provides more opportunities for criminals to steal from unsuspecting victims. Tech-savvy thieves can use a person’s identifiers (such as social security and credit card numbers) to commit fraud and other crimes. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that about 9 million Americans have their identities stolen annually. Where once criminals were limited to physically stealing wallets and dumpster-diving for carelessly disposed information, they now have phishing (the use of scam emails), skimming (using devices to pick up information from swiped cards), and pretexting (the use of scam text messages) at their disposal.
Though having your identity stolen can have disastrous consequences, it’s important not to panic. After learning about a theft or impersonation, a person should immediately file a report with the police, obtain a credit report if necessary, and contact the your credit agency, bank, or post office.
In New Jersey, the crime of identity theft is covered by N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17, which punishes wrongful impersonation. Illegal acts that fall under this law include impersonating another person (such as signing as that person), assuming a fabricated or stolen identity (for purposes such as obtaining unauthorized funds or licenses), and assisting another person in committing one of the various forms of identity theft. Punishment can range from a combination of fines and prison time, the severity depending on the amount of money stolen and the number of victims.
Also, victims can get triple damages and lawyers and court fees. But the best ways to avoid the costs and stress of recovering from the aftermath of identity theft is to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place. Carefully dispose of all confidential information by shredding it. Keep updated records of all financial transactions, and contact the proper authorities the moment an unauthorized activity is spotted. Other laws like the New Jersey Identity Prevention Act also protect people by requiring companies to notify all customers if there’s been an information breach. You may want to check from time to time with your bank and other holders of your private information. To fight identity threats, awareness is one of the most valuable weapons. Loree Varella, Rutgers School of Law Newark candidate for a JD degree in May 2016 collaborated with me on this blog. She is Associate Editor of the Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal and Managing Research Editor of that publication.