N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17, the New Jersey “Impersonation” Law, outlines five (5) criminal offenses that can apply when someone impersonates another or assumes a false identity. This violation is also referred to as identity theft and includes all forms of impersonation, including over the internet, to obtain credit cards, or any other fraud where some poses as another. All forms of impersonation charge have the potential to significantly impact your live as a conviction can result in years of state prison incarceration.

There Must Be A Purpose To Injure or Defraud

Before the state can punish someone for impersonation, it must prove that the accused engaged in the conduct “to obtain a benefit for himself or another, or to injure or defraud another.” A “benefit” is defined as the receipt of property, money, services, or avoidance of an obligation.

Proving An Impersonation Offense

There are three (3) elements that a prosecutor must prove in order to convict someone of impersonation. The first thing that the state must establish is that you impersonated another or assumed a false identity. Second, you must have undertaken some act in the capacity of the false identity. Third, the accused must have the purpose to obtain a benefit or to injure or defraud.

Common Scenarios For Impersonation

There are certain scenarios that are reoccurring in terms of impersonation charges. The following are examples of common situations where individuals impersonate:

Impersonating An Organization. It is a violation of this law to pose as a representative of an organization or an agent of the entity.

Impersonating To Obtain Services. Individuals often impersonate another or assume a false identity to obtain services, for example, gas, electric, cable or other utilities.

Using Someone’s Personal Information As If You Are Them. It is also an offense to obtain any personal identifying information pertaining to another person and use that information or assist another person in using the information.  “Personal identifying information” means any name, number or other information that may be used, alone or in conjunction with any other information, to identify a specific individual and includes, but is not limited to, the name, 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, unique biometric data, such as fingerprint, voice print, retina or iris image or other unique physical representation, or unique electronic identification number, address or routing code of the individual.

Posing As Another To Avoid Paying For Services. This form of impersonation occurs when someone applies either orally or in writing for benefits and represents himself as another, assumes a false identity or makes a false or misleading statement with the purpose of avoiding payment for prior services. This variety of offense concerns applications for prior services and not theft of services to be provided in the future.

Grading & Penalties

Fourth Degree Crime. A conviction for impersonating can result in a fourth degree, third degree or second degree crime. If the defendant obtains a benefit or deprives another of a benefit in an amount less than $500 and the offense involves the identity of one victim, the defendant is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree. Third degree impersonation carries a jail term of 0-18 months and a maximum fine of $10,000. If the individual has a prior fourth degree impersonation conviction, then a subsequent violation of this nature is enhanced to a third degree crime.

Third Degree Crime. If the defendant obtains a benefit or deprives another of a benefit in an amount of at least $500 but less than $75,000 it also results in third degree impersonation. It is also a crime of third degree if the offense involves the identity of at least two (2) but less than five victims. A third degree conviction for impersonation carries a presumptive sentence of 3-5 years in prison and a fine as high as $15,000.

Second Degree. If the amount of the loss is $75,000 or more, or the violation involves five (5) or more victims, then the offense is a second degree crime. The state prison term is 5-10 years and the fine is up to $150,000 if you impersonate in the second degree.

In addition to the fines and jail term previously set forth, an individual must provide restitution to anyone injured as a result of the impersonation including, but not limited to, reimbursing the victim for the cost of cleaning up this credit.