New Jersey State Legislature Passes Bill Imposing Penalties For Criminal Impersonation on Internet

Recently, New Jersey state legislature passed a bill, which sought to amend an earlier law to impose criminal penalties for criminal impersonation through any means including electronic communications or Internet website. The bill was not opposed by any member of the legislature. The new bill has been now referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill was sponsored by legislators Craig J. Coughlin, Annette Quijano and Jon M. Bramnick and co-sponsored by legislators John S. Wisniewski and Pamela R. Lampitt.

If the offence results in benefit to the perpetrator or loss to a legitimate party of an amount less than $500 and affects one victim, than the offence would be treated as a fourth degree crime. However, further convictions would constitute a third degree crime. An offense, which involves at least $500, but less than $75,000 or involves identity theft of at least two, but less than five people, would constitute a third degree crime. If the amount involved is $75,000 or more or affects the identity of five or more people, than the offense would be treated as second degree crime. If the identity theft does not involve any monetary value and affects one individual, than the offender would be considered guilty of disorderly persons offense.

While Internet has provided a convenient medium for people to conduct banking transactions, shopping and social networking, the technology has also provided a breeding ground for crime. Criminals constantly find ways to extract easily available personal and financial information from electronic channels. University websites, online shopping sites, banking sites and social media sites, all are targeted to gain access to databases containing sensitive information such as names, addresses, e-mail ids, usernames, passwords, credit card and debit card information, social security numbers, student enrolment numbers and contact numbers.

The collected information is used for impersonation, identity theft and fraud. Cybercriminals may file fake tax returns on behalf of legitimate tax payers, apply for student loans and new credit accounts in banks. The gathered information is also for stealing funds, conducting unauthorized transactions and money transfers. The extracted information could also be sold by offenders to their peers, who may create fake credit and debit cards. As such, laws providing for criminal penalties for misrepresentation and identity theft including those through electronic channels would help in reducing the instances of cybercrime.

Government authorities must also focus on employee training by encouraging them to undertake e-learning and online university degree programs, attend training sessions and seminars to understand and implement safe online computing practices.

Hiring security professionals qualified in masters of security science, computer forensics, secured programming, incident management, security analysis, computer forensics and security audit would help government and business organizations to strengthen the IT infrastructure.

Government must also emphasize on improving cyber education among Internet users through awareness programs, advertisements, documentaries, e-brochures and introducing online degree and diploma programs. As Internet crime could be committed by offenders located beyond a state jurisdiction, collaboration with other state governments and countries is crucial to minimize instances of cybercrime.