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updated 12/28/2009 12:27:17 PM ET 2009-12-28T17:27:17

A pair of state lawmakers are hoping to stop unsolicited text message advertisements from being sent to New Jersey residents by sponsoring legislation to heavily fine violators.

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Noting that such ads can be a costly nuisance for consumers, Sen. Joseph Vitale says the practice needs to be stopped immediately. He's co-sponsoring legislation that would provide stiff penalties for violators, especially if they knew — or should have known — the consumer receiving the ads was a senior citizen or someone with a disability.

"When a telecommunications customer goes over their allotted text messages in a month, the additional fees charged by telecommunications carriers can add up very quickly," Vitale said. "But particularly when it comes to unsolicited text messaging, the consumer may be footing the bill for advertisers to intrude on their own private mobile devices. That simply doesn't seem fair."

The measure sponsored by Vitale, D-Woodbridge, and Sen. Sean Kean, R-Wall, would bar the sending of unsolicited ads by text messaging if they cause recipients to pay fees or if they reduce the number of text messages allotted by their telecommunications provider.

It defines an unsolicited ad as any message sent without the recipient's express prior permission that encourages the purchase of, rental of or investment in any form of merchandise, including services.

Violators would face fines put forth in the state's Consumer Fraud Act. First offenses could cost offenders as much as $10,000, while fines for subsequent violations could reach as much as $20,000.

And if the violators knew — or should have known — that the victim is a senior citizen or someone with disability, they could be fined as much as $30,000.

However, someone who sends only one such text message during a 12-month period would not be liable under the measure. The legislation would also require telecommunications firms that sell or offer text messaging services in New Jersey to allow consumers the option to block all incoming and outgoing text messages.

"We have to do a much better job in New Jersey to protect consumers from unsolicited text advertisements which can drive their cell phone bills through the roof," Vitale said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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