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Impersonation on Facebook -- Risk Prosecution for Identity Theft

A New Jersey Superior Court judge recently ruled that a woman accused of impersonating her ex-boyfriend on a bogus Facebook page, on which she posted derogatory comments and images about him, may be prosecuted for identity theft under New Jersey law.

The case, State v. Thornton out of Morris County, involves a defendant whom prosecutors alleged created a phony Facebook page in which she posted photos and personal information about her ex-boyfriend, a former narcotics detective, including comments purportedly made by him.  Included in those postings were comments, all attributed to the ex-boyfriend/former detective, that he was "high all the time," suffered from herpes, and sought the services of prostitutes and professional female escorts.

New Jersey law, specifically N.J.S.A. 2C:21-17, makes it illegal to impersonate another individual or assume a false identity, and perform an act in furtherance of such impersonation or false identity, for the purpose of obtaining a benefit for himself or another or to injure or defraud someone else.  Depending on the facts and allegations of the specific case, a violation of this statute may constitute a crime of the fourth degree (punishable by up to 18 months in prison), third degree (punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison), or second degree (punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison).

In the Thornton case, the defense argued that the identity theft statute makes no mention of electronic communications (such as by way of Facebook), and that the charge should be dismissed.  The trial court disagreed, and ruled the fact that the means of committing the crime are not specifically set forth in the statute does not lead to the conclusion that a crime was not committed.

Internet identity theft is a growing concern in New Jersey and across the nation.  Although the Thornton case arises out of Morris county, its reverberations are likely to be felt in courts throughout the state, including those in Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

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