Identity theft has become a common problem across the globe. Fraudsters employ newer sophisticated techniques to steal a victim's identity.
The stolen data can vary from extremely sensitive information to anything that can cause potential harm. In many cases, the victim’s personal information is used in an unauthorized way for the fraudster’s personal gain.
Identity theft can occur online or offline. For instance, shoulder surfing is the simplest way to carry out identity theft.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is an act wherein a criminal gets access to your personal information and would use it in an unauthorized way. This involves making false claims using the victim's identity.
The reason to steal someone's identity can be many, but financial gain is the topmost reason. Other reasons may include gaining unauthorized access or defame the victim or trying to get shielded from legal consequences.
In many cases, we confuse data breach with identity theft. A data breach involves your data, private, personal or confidential being accessed in an unauthorized way. The next step to a data breach is identity theft, where an individual's information is used illegally.
In most countries, identity theft is a criminal offense and can result in legal repercussions to the fraudster. For instance, The United States has the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act along with Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, which would make a criminal face legal consequences.
Types of Identity Theft:
There are several types of identity theft and each of these is equally dangerous. There are numerous ways in which your personal information can be accessed and used.
Few of the main types of identity theft are:
- Social Security Identity Theft: This involves stealing your Social Security Number – SSN. Once this is accessed, there are numerous illegal activities that can be performed with the victim’s SSN. The criminal can perform any kind of fraud and can access victim’s confidential documents.
- Financial Identity Theft: This is the most common grievance for most victims. In this, victim’s sensitive financial information such as credit card details is stolen and used. Needless to say, this can result in a large financial loss for the victim.
- Driver's License Identity Theft: Another important document is the Driver’s License. A fraudster can take a victim’s driver license data and sell it to a third party or use it for an illegal purpose. Such identity theft can be dangerous and can also have legal consequences.
- Criminal Identity Theft: This can be extremely risky since over here a criminal would perform criminal activities using the victim’s personal details. This again can get the victim caught up legally.
- Medical Identity Theft: Over here the criminal would access and use an individual’s personal information such as medical identification numbers to gain medical benefits. This can lead to financial losses as well as alteration in the victim’s medical records without the victim’s knowledge.
- Insurance Identity Theft: This is closely linked to medical identity theft, where the criminal would access victim’s sensitive information to gain access to insurance data. With this, the victim could face severe financial losses.
- Synthetic Identity Theft: This is a potentially harmful type of identity theft and is used by several fraudsters. This usually involves using your most important Id proof such as Social Security Number combined with several fake documents. For instance, this can be used to acquire a new credit card or apply for a job.
- Tax Identity Theft: This involves raising false tax refund claims using the victim’s personal information. This can have legal consequences for the victim.
- Child Identity Theft: It’s usually perceived that only adults are victims of identity theft. However, that is not the case. There can also be child identity theft, where a child’s sensitive information is used for the criminal's benefit or to commit a horrendous crime.
These are a few types of identity theft. However, on a daily basis, there are newer techniques employed by fraudsters to carry out identity theft.
Consequences of Identity Theft:
Identity theft is a serious issue and one needs to understand the consequences of identity theft. As an individual, being a victim of Identity theft can have some really serious consequences.
- Financial Loss: Having a financial loss is probably the biggest threat. Once the victim’s personal information is stolen, credit card details, bank accounts, and other financial records can be easily accessed.
- Defamation: The victim of an Identity theft might have to face legal consequences for something they have not been involved in. Identity theft can result in defamation and legal charges unless proved otherwise.
- Criminal Charges: When the victim's personal data is used to commit a crime, then in such cases the victim would have to face criminal charges. This again would require a legal battle to prove the victim’s innocence.
- Manipulation of Original Information: In certain cases of Identity theft, data such as medical records can be manipulated. This can have long-lasting repercussions for the victim.
- Impact on Credit Rating: In certain identity theft such as synthetic identity theft, the victim’s data is used to acquire a credit card. This can impact the victim’s credit rating and in several cases amount to a loan rejection.
- Cancellation of Services: Identity theft committed using certain Id proofs such as Driver’s license can amount in the victim’s actual driving license being canceled based on the impact of crime.
By and large, identity theft can be extremely dangerous in several cases. The consequence can vary from financial loss to legal charges. In most cases, it becomes tedious to prove the victim’s innocence.
Tips to prevent Identity Theft:
Below are a few tips which can help you protect yourself from an identity theft. Identity theft can occur online over the internet or outside, which means you need to be vigilant at all times to protect your information.
- Check for shoulder-surfers - Shoulder surfing is a common technique used by criminals to get a victim’s data. Ensure all your private and confidential data such as ATM pin is always protected. Use biometric authentication or a two-factor authentication wherever possible.
- Data Sharing – Be vigilant of what you share in a public network or on a social media platform. Do not share any confidential or private information when you are on a public network.
- Encryption and Password protection – Most applications and emails provide an additional encryption option. This by default in most cases is disabled. Before using such services ensure to select the always encryption option. Any confidential or private document should always be sent password protected.
- Secure Access – Use a secure VPN to protect your data. Whenever you are accessing online payment services ensure to use a VPN. Also, check the protocol which is used by the website you access. Choose HTTPS over HTTP always.
- Analyze your data – On a regular basis, always analyze your data such as Credit report. This will help you find discrepancies if any.
- Hoax calls – Before revealing any personal information over a call, double check the caller’s identity. At all times avoid sharing any personal information over a call. Hoax calls are a common way to employ identity theft.
- Shred all data – In case you have a sensitive document, then dispose of it using a shredder. This also includes documents which have a barcode. For instance, a flight ticket has a barcode, which can be scanned to reveal your personal information.
- Signature – Before signing any document or signing anywhere in public, always read the document completely. This ensures, your signature will not be easily accessible to fraudsters.
- E-waste – Dispose of e-waste appropriately. If such waste contains any sensitive information, then it can be used by criminals for their benefit.
- Online payment – While making online payments or net banking, double check the URL of the website. It doesn’t take much effort for a fraudster to provide a phishing website.
How to recover from an Identity Theft?
If in case you ever fall a victim to identity theft, then you could follow the below guidelines to recover from an identity theft.
- Replace missing documents immediately. Contact the appropriate agency and bring to their notice the identity theft incident.
- Create an identity theft report.
- In case of your credit report is being misused, then create a fraud alert with the credit report agencies. Also, inform the corresponding banking officials about the identity theft incident.
- If the credit card details are exposed, then immediately request a credit freeze till further notice.
- In all cases, after being a victim to identity theft, ensure to reset your passwords.
- Monitor your data closely post an identity theft.
- If tax records or medical records are compromised, then immediately contact the corresponding officials to report an identity theft incident.
- Issue immediate request to correct the manipulated records.
In most case, being aware and immediately reporting an identity theft incident helps. This can ensure the least damage in the future, post an incident of identity theft.
Identity theft is a bigger issue than it is usually perceived. On a daily basis, several individuals become victims of identity theft. In most cases, the victim remains unaware of an identity theft. Identity theft can cause some really severe damage. Being aware of how to protect yourself from an identity theft is the key to prevent it.