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Acting Gov. Richard Codey of New Jersey last week signed three bills that would protect people from identity theft and criminalize related activities. The principal measure, the Identity Theft Prevention Act, A-4001, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, allows consumers to have a freeze placed on credit reports if they are victims of identity theft. Credit reporting companies would then be barred from releasing financial information to third parties, such as lenders, except to tell them that the freeze is in effect. The law also restricts the use of Social Security numbers. No second party would be allowed to publicly display a Social Security number, or any four or more consecutive numbers of a person’s Social Security number. Companies would be barred from printing Social Security numbers on mailings, unless state or federal law requires their use. No Social Security numbers may be printed on cards required for access to services or products, nor may Social Security numbers be required for access to Internet sites. Violations of the act are punishable by fines of up to $10,000 for first offenses and up to $20,000 for subsequent ones. The law requires companies doing business in New Jersey to take greater steps toward protecting their customers’ personal information, and requires them to inform customers if their personal information is lost or stolen. A second bill, A-2768, which goes into effect immediately, makes it a second-degree crime to sell or offer to sell a forged birth certificate or to possess one with intent to sell it. Convictions will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $150,000 in fines. A third bill, A-2769, also effective immediately, prohibits unauthorized use of scanning devices or re-encoders to access or scan the encoded information on any ATM, debit, credit or other payment card. It also criminalizes using re-encoders to place the information encoded on the magnetic strip onto a different card without permission. Violations are third-degree crimes punishable by prison terms of three to five years. The Identity Theft Prevention Act received plaudits from consumer rights groups. “New Jersey’s identity theft act is among the most comprehensive in the nation, and the security freeze right it creates is far and away the strongest in the nation,” said Abigail Caplovitz, a legislative advocate with the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group. The business community, which will have to implement additional security and reporting programs, has been silent on the measure. Christopher Biddle, the vice president for communications for the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, an industry lobbying group, says the organization took no position on the bill.

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