What do a credit card receipt forgotten on a restaurant table, a “pre-approved credit card” application filed with other “junk mail,” and a lost or stolen wallet have in common? All may result in identity theft — one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States, according to the FBI. Identity theft occurs when one person’s identification (name, Social Security number or any account number) is used by another to commit fraud or another crime.

In response to this trend, the New Jersey Legislature enacted the New Jersey Identity Theft Prevention Act, which was signed by Gov. Richard J. Cody as one of his last acts in office. Pub. Law 2005, ch. 226. Effective Jan. 1, 2006, the act seeks to safeguard personal information from identity theft on a broad scale by applying to any New Jersey company or agency that uses or maintains personal information. The act requires businesses to destroy records containing sensitive personal information no longer needed, limits business use of Social Security numbers and permits individuals to restrict third-party access to credit reports through a security “freeze.” The act imposes penalties for any intentional or reckless violation of its provisions and resultant failure adequately to protect against the commission of the crime of identity theft.

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