Identity Theft: Are You Next?

Having your identity stolen is getting easier and easier as we put more of our lives on the Web

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by: Mike Wade

What is Identity Theft?

There are different meanings to the word identity but legal concepts of identity are principally concerned with information that is used to distinguish one person from another; (Finch, 2007).  The information or data that is associated with an individual or a particular human being. Such data, which can broadly be described as “identity information”, may take a number of forms. It may be something you know, such as a PIN, or something you have, such as a driver’s licence (Clarke, 1994, pp. 17-18). It could also take the form of a social security number, birth certificate number, credit report information, passport number, credit card numbers, fingerprints, home address, IP address or police record.

Although often used interchangeably, the terms “identity crime”, “identity fraud” and “identity theft” have distinct meanings.

  • “Identity crime” refers to offences where the defendant uses a false identity to perpetrate the crime.
  • “Identity fraud” is where a false identity is used to gain money, goods, benefits or services.
  • “Identity theft” is the assumption of a pre-existing identity

How it happens

Old hard drives that are discarded, dumpster diving, bogus job postings to obtain information from resumes, people or websites that impersonate trusted organizations like charities and banks. Guessing or obtaining someone’s passwords, surveys to get common questions like mother’s maiden name, spyware, house break ins, phishing, shoulder-surfing in public places, skimming of someone’s bank or credit cards. Malware, Trojan horse keystroke logging programs, fake contests, accessing employers systems, browsing social network sites for personal info, stealing cheques, befriending strangers on social networks or online dating sites or fake emergency calls from relatives. Pretend call centres, phony phone calls or emails from government tax agencies, stealing your mail or a lost wallet.

Implications

Peoples lives can be ruined by identity theft. It can destroy their credit rating and even if you can prove that you were the victim of identity theft it can take years to get your credit rating back. It can devastate you financially as not all the debts that were built up using your identity will be forgiven, you will most likely be on the hook for at least some of them, and if you don’t pay there will be collection agencies calling which can also take a very long time to make them stop. There is also a psychological toll it can take, worrying about the potential effects of the theft and how it will impact your family like college loans for your children.

Prevention

Never reveal your personal information on a social networking site, or to anyone over the phone. Be careful of any email you get even if it appears to be from a legitimate source like your bank, if they are requesting information call them first. Do not open an attachment in an email unless you are certain that it is from a trusted source. Shred all financial or personal paper information. Change your credit cards frequently. Have a low credit limit on a credit card that you use to purchase items on the internet from. Buy protective software but because parties who can prevent identity theft generally do not receive the full benefits from prevention, private incentives to prevent identity theft are likely inadequate. Rules governing who bears the cost will affect the incentives to take action that reduce the chance of identity theft. (Anderson, 2008)

Other Resources

Top 5 Causes of Identity Theft

Top 10 Ways to Protect Against Identity Theft

5 Ways Identity Theft Can Ruin Your Life

9 Surprising Ways Identity Theft Can Hurt You

References

Anderson, K. B., Durbin, E., & Salinger, M. A. (2008). Identity theft. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 22(2), 171-192. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/jep.22.2.171

Clarke, R. (1994), “Human identification in information systems: management challenges and public policy issues”, Information Technology and People , Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 6-37.

Finch, E. (2007), “The problem of stolen identity and the internet”, in Jewkes, Y. (Ed.), Crime Online ,Willan Publishing, Cullompton, p. 30.

 

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