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Protecting NJ Identity Theft Victims

An Assembly committee today has unanimously approved a bill that would establish a process for a victim of identity theft to notify a debt collector of their status and requires 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.

Identity Theft
Flickr User B Rosen

“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,” says bill co-sponsor Assemblyman Gordon 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.”

Under the bill, a consumer must furnish a complete statement regarding the facts related to the theft of their identity to a debt collector. After the debt collector concludes the review, the consumer must be notified in writing of the determination and the basis for it. If the debt collector determines the consumer is responsible for the debt, they may resume their action to collect the amount in question.

“Unraveling the extent of an identity theft is harrowing enough,” says Assemblyman Anthony Bucco, another of the measure’s sponsors. “A debt collector should be mindful of these circumstances and thoroughly investigate the issue before taking action to collect on the amount in question.”

The bill directs the 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.

Assemblyman Tim Eustace explains, “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.”

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