An attorney with one of the largest workers’ compensation carriers in New Jersey admitted to me, recently, that as a matter of course, in all cases, their adjusters do computer searches to find out personal information about injured workers which may be used to avoid or limit paying benefits. In an effort to gather personal information about an injured worker, an adjuster or nurse case manager will often ask to “friend” or otherwise access an injured worker social media account. This request may seem to come out of friendship but, unfortunately, all too often, it is to check up on the activities of the injured worker. Some unscrupulous claims adjusters have gone to such lengths as to misrepresent their identity to gain access to a private social media page by claiming to be a friend of someone the injured worker knows or assuming an identity that the adjuster believes will allow for access.
Shocking as it may seem, such practices are not illegal in New Jersey. Under New Jersey Law, it is only illegal for someone to attempt to access your computer system for the purpose of obtaining personal identifying information.
The New Jersey Legislature is well aware of the deficiencies in the law. Presently pending in the legislature are two bills, A-661 and S-631, primarily sponsored by Assemblyman Linda R. Greenstein, which makes it a crime of the 3rd degree for someone to misrepresent their identity or authority in order to obtain personal information from an injured worker. A crime of the 3rd degree is punishable by up to five years imprisonment or a fine of $15,000 or both.
This bill also provides that any person who sells or distributes improperly acquired personal identifying information to another, commits a crime in the 3rd degree as well. Unfortunately, this bill has languished the last two years without hearing.
An injured worker needs to protect his or herself from this practice of “phishing” by limiting access to the social media sites, particularly by claims adjusters or nurse case managers or by anyone not personally known. Otherwise a injured workers will find themselves in a position where their own private posts are used against them in their efforts to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.