New identity theft bill increases state penalties

Gov. James E. McGreevey signed Assembly bill A-3226, which increases the penalties for anyone convicted of identity theft crimes. The bill provides restitution and restoration of a victim’s financial status and credit history, according to a press release.

Attorney General Peter Harvey, members of the state police, and legislative sponsors Sen. Paul Sarlo and Sen. Joseph Coniglio joined the governor for the bill signing in Lyndhurst.

"New Jersey crime is now at its lowest level in more than three decades," said McGreevey. "This is good news, but certainly not the time to ease up on our fight against crime.

"We have a new battle on our hands. Growing popularity of the Internet, compounded with the increased use of bank cards and credit cards, has created a new problem," he said.

In the last year, nearly 5,000 New Jerseyans have fallen victim to identify theft, twice as many as the previous year, according to the press release. On average, victims pay up to $1,400 and spend in excess of 175 hours to correct their credit history information that relates to the activities of an identity thief, according to the release.

"We are now fighting against a truly faceless criminal and must have laws on the books that keep these criminals from easily eluding the law," said McGreevey.

Under the law, identity theft is an enhanced offense with upgraded penalties and fines. Those charged with using in excess of five identities, stealing more than $75,000, or selling, producing, or possessing a fraudulent driver’s license or government document will now face prosecution for a second-degree crime, with penalties of up to 10 years in prison and a $150,000 fine.

The measure is specifically designed to protect victims, according to the governor’s office. Victims now have the right to recover up to three times the monetary damages in a civil suit. This includes three times the value of all that is lost, all the victim’s attorney’s fees, court costs and any out-of-pocket expenses. In addition, victims will now have the legal power to restore their credit reports to eliminate the improper charges and transactions due to identity theft.

Under the law, state courts are authorized to grant an order directing consumer reporting agencies to delete a record of bad credit created as the result of an identity theft.

The Division of Criminal Justice has created a new Web site ( as part of the comprehensive law enforcement attack on identity theft.