New Jersey Section 2C:21-17.4 – Action by person defrauded by unauthorized use of personal identifying information.
New Jersey Law Provides Recourse for Victims of Identity Theft
Identity theft has become an increasing problem in recent years, with criminals using stolen personal information to open fraudulent accounts and make unauthorized purchases. This can wreck a victim’s credit score and finances. To address this, New Jersey enacted a specific law, Section 2C:21-17.4, that allows victims to take civil action against perpetrators.
Overview of the Law
Section 2C:21-17.4 allows a person who suffers financial loss due to unauthorized use of their personal identifying information to bring a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. This includes losses from credit, debit, or charge card fraud, bank fraud, fraudulent loans, and other types of identity theft.
To prevail in a lawsuit under this statute, the victim must show that the perpetrator knowingly used their personal information without authorization, and that this directly resulted in ascertainable financial losses. Personal identifying information covers things like name, address, Social Security number, driver’s license details, telephone number, and more.
If successful, the victim can recover economic damages like financial losses, attorney’s fees, and costs. The law also allows the court to award punitive damages up to $10,000 if the identity theft was particularly egregious.
Key Benefits for Victims
Section 2C:21-17.4 provides important benefits for identity theft victims in New Jersey:
- Direct recourse: It gives victims the right to directly sue perpetrators civilly, instead of having to rely solely on criminal prosecution. This enhances the victim’s ability to recover losses.
- Broader recovery: In addition to economic damages, the law provides for limited punitive damages. This can increase compensation, and also deter future offenses.
- Attorney’s fees: The statute mandates that the court award reasonable attorney’s fees to a prevailing victim. This makes legal representation more accessible.
- Longer statute of limitations: Lawsuits can be filed within 4 years of discovering the identity theft, compared to 2 years for other civil actions.
Requirements for Filing a Lawsuit
There are several requirements identity theft victims must meet to successfully pursue civil action under Section 2C:21-17.4:
- Standing: Only the victim whose personal information was misused has standing to sue.
- Unauthorized use: The perpetrator must have knowingly used the victim’s personal information without consent.
- Ascertainable loss: The victim must have suffered quantifiable financial loss due to the identity theft.
- Causation: There must be a direct causal link between the unauthorized use and the ascertainable loss.
- Statute of limitations: The lawsuit must be filed within 4 years of the victim discovering the identity theft.
Defenses Available to the Perpetrator
There are certain defenses that a perpetrator can raise in response to a lawsuit under Section 2C:21-17.4:
- Lack of standing: The defendant can argue the plaintiff is not the actual victim.
- No unauthorized use: The defendant can claim they had permission to use the personal information.
- No ascertainable loss: The defendant can contend the plaintiff did not suffer measurable financial loss.
- Lack of causation: The defendant can assert the loss was not directly caused by use of the personal information.
- Statute of limitations expired: The defendant can move to dismiss based on the statute of limitations.
Steps to Take if You Are a Victim
If you have been the victim of identity theft in New Jersey, here are some steps to consider taking:
- Report to authorities: File a report with your local police and the FTC’s Identity Theft Reporting System.
- Dispute fraudulent accounts: Contact creditors and reporting agencies to dispute any unauthorized accounts opened in your name.
- Monitor credit reports: Check your reports regularly for signs of further fraudulent activity. Consider placing a credit freeze.
- Collect evidence: Gather police reports, account statements, and other documentation as evidence of the identity theft.
- Consult an attorney: Discuss your case with an attorney experienced in Section 2C:21-17.4 lawsuits. They can advise you on the strength of your case and assist with filing suit.
- Consider mitigation: Explore steps to mitigate any additional damage, like closing compromised accounts and obtaining an IRS PIN.
Recovering from identity theft takes time and perseverance. But Section 2C:21-17.4 provides victims in New Jersey with a valuable legal tool to gain compensation and hold perpetrators accountable. Consulting with an attorney can help victims maximize its benefits.