The New Jersey statute that deals with identity theft is N.J.S. 2C:21-17. That statute defines five different ways that a person can commit identity theft.
The first way has three componants, or “elements.” The first element is that the accused person knowingly impersonated another, or assumed a false identity. “Impersonate” means to assume the character or appearance of another, or to imitate the appearance, voice, or manner of another. The second element is that the accused person knowingly did an act in such assumed character or false identity, The final element is that the accused person's purpose in doing that act was one (or more) of the following:
- To obtain a benefit for himself;
- To obtain a benefit for another;
- To injure another; or
- To defraud another.
As indicated above, the impersonation must be done knowingly. Thus if the accused person harbors delusions that heis actually someone else, then his impersonation is not “knowingly.” In such case, this element of the offense would be missing. The accused person would then be entitled to a verdict of not guilty.
The second method of identity theft in New Jersey is identical to the first, with one exception: The first method relates to knowingly impersonating someone else. What this second method involves is pretending to be a representative of a person or organization.
The third way to commit identify theft in New Jersey again has three elements. They are very similar to the first method. What is different is that this third method must be made in an oral or written application for services; and the purpose for the impersonation must be to obtain services.
The fourth way to commit identify theft in New Jersey has four elements: The accused must obtain personal identifying information pertaining to another person; he must use the information or assist another person to use the information in order to assume the identity of another person or in order to represent himself as another person; he must be aware that he lacks authorization to use the other individual' personal information; and he must have as his purpose any of the following:
- Fraudulently obtain a benefit or services, or
- Attempt to obtain a benefit or services, or
- Avoid the payment of debt or other legal obligation, or
- Avoid prosecution for a crime by using the name of the other person.
“Personal identifying information” is a wide-encompassing term. It includes any name, number, or other information that may be used, alone or in conjunction with any other information, to identify a specific individual. A whole laundry list of items is included. That laundry list includes address, telephone number, date of birth, social security number, official State issued identification number, employer or taxpayer number, place of employment, employee identification number, demand deposit account number, savings account number, credit card number, mother's maiden name, and unique biometric data. “Unique biometric data”, in turn, include fingerprints, voice prints, retina or iris images, and other unique physical representations. Also included in “personal identifying information” are unique electronic identification numbers, addresses or routing codes of the individual. This list is not exhaustive. “Personal identifying information” can also include other data, even though not specifically listed in this list. The obtaining must be done knowingly.
Finally we reach the fifth and last way that a person can commit the crime of identify theft in New Jersey. This fifth way has three elements: The accused person must knowingly impersonate another, or assume a false identity, or make a false or misleading statement; the impersonation, assumption of false identity, false statement, or misleading statement must occur in the course of him making an oral or written application for services; and the impersonation, assumption of false identity, false statement, or misleading statement must be made for the purpose of avoiding payment for prior services.
Under New Jersey law, purpose to avoid payment for prior services may be inferred from proof that the accused person has not made full payment for prior services and has impersonated another, assumed a false identity or made a false or misleading statement regarding the identity of any person in the course of making oral or written application for those services. This inference is permissive, not mandatory. It is up to a jury to determine whether the facts and circumstances shown by the evidence support any inference. The jury is always free to accept them or reject them if it wishes.
Allan Marain and Norman Epting, Jr. are Law Offices of Allan Marain Counsellors at Law. They have over sixty-five years of combined experience. They defend persons charged with identity theft. If you have been, or may be, charged with identity theft, feel free to call them for a no-charge no-obligation conference.