New Jersey has stiffened penalties for those who impersonate a veteran or a member of the armed forces for their personal gain.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law on Tuesday legislation that upgrades certain crimes related to these scams, multiplying the potential fine by 15 and adding a potential prison sentence to the punishment.

"With the internet and with COVID, there's sort of an anonymity involved when you're asking for veterans' benefits," said state Sen. Joe Pennacchio, R-Morris, a sponsor of the legislation that's now law. "I don't think there's an awful lot of this going around, but quite frankly, one is too much."

Methods of impersonation, according to the law, aren't limited to remote applications; they include wearing the uniform that's authorized for use by veterans or active military members, and claiming to be the recipient of any decoration or medal.

This type of crime would be upgraded from third degree to second degree if the bad actor benefits in the amount of $75,000 or more. A crime of the second degree can result in 5 to 10 years behind bars, and a fine of up to $150,000.

Currently, the fine is a minimum of $1,000, thanks to a law signed by then-Gov. Chris Christie in 2015. That will remain the case for fraud that results in less than $75,000 worth of personal gain.

Any penalties are required to be deposited into the Military Dependents Scholarship Fund.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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