With the rising cases of identity theft, there’s an urgency in protecting one’s data. Let’s have a look at what identity theft stands for and how it can affect you.
What is Identity Theft?
The US Department of Justice defines identity theft as “all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain.”
The term identity theft can be defined as the practice of stealing an individual’s personal or financial information in order to commit fraud. It can damage the targeted individual’s reputation, finances, and credit.
Identity theft occurs when someone is robbed of their personal information, like social security number, credit card information, and bank account details. It can be conducted by different means.
For example, some identity thieves are known to steal credit card information at restaurants in someone’s absence. Many hackers try to steal sensitive information from popular websites. Another means of identity theft is obtaining information from corporate databases. This can make it extremely difficult to trust third-party e-commerce websites with crucial information that’s needed for transactions.
Identity theft is getting more sophisticated day by day. With open access to high-end computer technology, identity theft has become quite difficult to protect from. Identity thieves may go through stolen hard drives, damaged computers, and computer networks. They may also use malware to infect personal computers, social networking sites, and deceitful emails and text messages.
Types of Identity Theft
There are several types of identity theft. Some of these are as follows:
Financial Identity Theft
Financial identity theft is one of the most common forms of identity theft. It takes place when someone attempts to steal an individual’s credit card information and bank details. Your bank account credentials can be used to obtain services, buy expensive products, and much more.
In case you’re a victim of financial identity theft, it may leave you in financial debt and a damaged credit score. This is why it’s extremely important to be vigilant with your financial details. It’s a good measure to keep interaction with third-party websites minimum. This involves e-commerce websites that you may visit for shopping.
Social Security Identity Theft
Social Security identity theft refers to the theft of your social security number. When someone steals your social security number, they can use it to apply for new credit cards, bank accounts, etc. This typically leads to financial debt because the thief won’t pay for new credit cards or other bank-related services.
People who perform identity theft can use the victim’s social security number to obtain medical, disability, etc.
Medical Identity Theft
Fraudsters can use medical identity theft to receive medical services under your name. In this case, one would use your medical insurance details to obtain reimbursement for medical treatment that may or may not be covered by your policy. This type of identity theft can be performed by both patients and medical providers.
Fraudsters may use the individual’s details for bogus medical claims or use them for getting treated at state and private hospitals by impersonating you. Medical insurance details may also get stolen by employees or hackers who can then use them to sell your personally identifying information.
Synthetic Identity Theft
Synthetic identity theft takes place when a criminal uses real and fake information to create a separate identity which can then be used for opening bank accounts and credit cards. In this case, real information is often stolen.
For example, if someone obtains your credentials, like your social security number, and uses them to create a new identity, half of the information used would still be yours. This could create problems like false claims, damaged credit scores, etc. A high credit score would allow them to commit fraud for a considerable amount of time.
Child Identity Theft
Child identity theft is a relatively common problem. This is because children usually do not have a lot of associated information that may make it difficult for the thief to commit fraud. Criminals often use children’s names and social security numbers to open bank accounts, receive loans, employment, etc.
In most cases, the perpetrator is from the family. This is because that makes it easy to obtain sensitive information. Also, fraudsters are likely to steal the information of a deceased family member for personal gain.
Criminal Identity Theft
Criminal identity theft takes place when someone uses a different identity at the time of the arrest to avoid the discovery of previous criminal records. It can also be used to pose as a different person to avoid being summoned to court.
Tax Identity Theft
Tax identity theft can take place if someone uses your personal information, such as your social security number, to file a fake tax return to claim a refund in your name.
Modes of Identity Theft
As explained above, identity theft can occur in several ways. Similarly, there are various means one can use to commit identity theft. It’s a relatively broad term that encompasses the use of someone else’s information. With the advent of new technology and hacking practices, please remember that your personal information is always at high risk.
This is why you should always be on high alert if you notice new purchases in your name that weren’t made by you. Let’s have a look at some modes of identity theft that are difficult to protect oneself against. Furthermore, we will be talking about how identity theft takes.
Data breaches are extremely common. They take place when someone unlawfully gains access to a company’s user data. This data often involves names, social security numbers, and credit card information. A recent example of a data breach is operation cookie monster which the FBI and the Dutch police carried out.
Operation cookie monster led to the arrest of about 119 people who were involved in identity theft. This was a global police operation that shut down Genesis Market. According to the EU’s policing agency, “Genesis Market listed for sale the identities of over two million people when it was shut down.”
Europol said that the website listed bots that would provide criminals with personal data. This information was obtained through malware infection and other such methods. They said, “Upon purchase of such a bot, criminals would get access to all the data harvested by it, such as fingerprints, cookies, saved logins, and autofill form data.”
Insecure browsing is one of the most common causes of identity theft. It’s possible to browse most of the Internet without it being a potential threat to data. But, if for any reason, you share your personal information on websites that may have been endangered by hackers. This can put your information at the disposal of cyber thieves who are patiently waiting for you to play directly into their hands.
Dark Web, especially dark web marketplaces, are websites that are accessed through special software. This software hides personal identities to keep fraudsters from being tracked in case of unlawful activity. In many cases, criminals use dark web marketplaces to sell personal information. Any credentials that end up on dark web marketplaces can easily be bought. This will put your reputation and finances in jeopardy.
The premise of malware infection is that software is programmed to steal information from your personal computer. Malware activity can be used to access someone’s computer remotely and spy on an individual without their knowledge.
Credit Card Information Theft
As we mentioned, credit card information theft takes place when someone steals your credentials and uses them for purchases in your name. After making large purchases with their credit cards, the criminals leave the debt unpaid. Since the purchases are essentially being made in your name, it can put you in heavy financial debt.
Spam attacks refer to the act of using spam emails and text messages to trap people into giving them your personal information. Spam emails and text messages often look like they are from a legitimate source. These texts ask individuals to open attachments that may end up infecting their electronic devices.
This gives the spammer control over the personal information that may be stored on your devices. This is why it’s advisable to not store sensitive information on your mobile phones, iPads, and other personal communication devices. Another way to use spam emails for identity theft is when the said email instructs you to open a website which then asks you to give up your credentials.
WiFi hacking targets people who use public networks on their phones and computers. Let’s say that you’re using a public network while making a purchase. If the said wifi network is compromised by hackers, they can easily tap into your device to obtain credit card numbers and important passwords.
Mobile Phone Theft
Mobile phone theft leads to identity theft in cases where you don’t use protective passwords to log in to your device. In case your phone gets stolen and they gain access to its contents, they can easily find your passwords and other information and then use it for fraudulent purposes.
Measures to Take
If you’ve recently checked your credit score and think that something may be wrong, then there are some measures that you can take to protect yourself from further damage. Let’s have a look at some measures you can take if you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft. We will also talk about how you can prevent identity theft.
Keep a close eye on your credit score. This is the first giveaway of whether you’re a victim of identity theft or not. If you’ve noticed an unusual drop in your credit score, then chances are that something has happened. In this case, you can contact your bank, file a police report, and suspend your current credit and debit cards.
This will make sure that there are no more illicit activities in your name. Start placing fraud alerts on your credit reports. By placing fraud alerts on your credit reports, you can ensure lenders go through you first before granting a loan in your name. This verification of identity usually takes place through phone calls and, in some cases, video calls.
Furthermore, you can freeze your credit reports. This will ensure that your credit statements don’t go to the lenders; they won’t be able to open a new account using your information.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. You can lodge an official complaint by assembling police reports and credit statements to make sure that the bank recognizes that you have been a victim of financial identity theft. Once you alert the bank, it’s time to freeze your assets.
People Prone to Identity Theft
We’ve talked about the different types of identity theft where it’s clear that children and the deceased are at great risk for identity theft. Children and the elderly remain at high risk because they are vulnerable, and manipulating them is easy. Apart from these groups, military personnel and college students are also particularly susceptible to identity theft.
In a nutshell, identity theft causes severe damage to one’s reputation and financial standing. Identity theft is extremely difficult to manage and recover from. If you think you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you should immediately contact your bank to block your credit cards and bank accounts.