Victims of identity theft in the Garden State shouldn’t be harassed by debt collectors if the victims didn’t rack up the debt the collectors want paid off.

Flickr User B Rosen

A bill sponsored by Assembly members Gordon Johnson, Tim Eustace, Dan Benson and Paul Moriarty to protect identity theft victims from debt collection was approved 76-0 by the Assembly Thursday.

“Repairing your life and credit after you have been victimized by this crime is a long battle against creditors and collectors to prove your identity,” said Johnson. “While you are putting the pieces together, you should not be held liable for a debt you did not accrue. All collections and charges should cease until the true damage – meaning unauthorized charges – are assessed and proven.”

The measure would establish a process for a victim of identity theft to notify a debt collector of their status as a victim of identity theft. It would require the debt collector to cease collection activities until a determination is made by the debt collector as to whether the consumer is in fact responsible for the debt in question.

“There really isn’t a solution to stopping identity theft,” admitted Eustace. “As consumers, we must safeguard our banking and personal information from predators. As lawmakers, we must strengthen the statute to further protect consumers from some of the consequences associated with identity theft such as debt collection and other enforcement activities.”

“Unraveling the extent of an identity theft is harrowing enough,” said Republican Assemblyman Anthony Bucco. “The anxiety a person experiences from having personal information stolen and fraudulently used is very traumatic. These victims deserve protection and the benefit of the doubt. The last thing they need is to be pursued by debt collectors, who should thoroughly investigate the issue before attempting to collect on the amount in question. Under such circumstances it is more than reasonable to require a debt collector to first resolve whether a charge is valid or was incurred through deception before taking action.”

The legislation directs the State Attorney General to enforce the provisions of the bill by seeking an injunction and taking further action. A violation of the act may result in a penalty of not less than $500 or more than $1,000 for each violation. The bill also provides that an action to enforce any provision of the act must be filed in the appropriate court within in one year from the date on which the violation occurs.

“Identify theft is a scourge that no one should have to deal with, but unscrupulous debt collectors can make that stress even worse,” insisted Benson. “In cases of identity theft, the innocent victim shouldn’t have to be hounded by debt collectors.”

The bill will now be referred to the Senate for consideration in the Upper House.

“This bill is quite simply the right thing to do for people who fall victim to identify theft,” explained Moriarty. “A victim of identity theft shouldn’t be chased by debt collectors when they didn’t do anything wrong. It’s that simple.”