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: Chris N. Fernando
It might happen to you too. You get a call one fine day from a credit collection agency, demanding you to pay off all your dues amounting to huge bucks. Wait a minute; I don’t have a credit card! What the hell? And then, you realize that it’s too late. Someone used your name and credentials, applied for a credit card and then splurged on thousands of dollars in shopping. And mind you, credit card misuse is just one way of what is termed as Identity Theft. There are other ways like hijacking a person’s email account, stealing passwords or personal information and misusing them and much more.
So what’s identity theft all about?
Identity theft in short is a crime — it might also amount to cyber crime or hacking. In this type of crime, your personal information is wrongfully obtained and used in some way, which involves fraud or deception, typically for economic gain. Unlike your fingerprints, which are unique to you and cannot be given to someone else for their use, your personal data — especially your Social Security number, your bank account or credit card number, your telephone calling card number, email account password, online shopping password and other valuable identifying data can be used, if they fall into the wrong hands, to personally profit at your expense.
There have been cases in the past where huge amounts of money were transferred from one bank account to another account, just because the person committing this crime happened to be the victim’s relative and came to know about the online banking password of the victim. So you see, it’s not just people who don’t know you committing crimes; even your own brother would do that — if he had an urgent need for money.
Types of Identity Theft
Identity theft can enter into many areas of our lives. It involves any instance where a person uses someone elses identification documents or other identifiers in order to impersonate that person for whatever reason. According to a survey conducted by the Federal Trade Commission, about 10 million people in the United States found out they were victims of identity theft in 2002. So, if it’s 10 million in the US alone, think about the rest of the world.
Identity Theft doesn’t need the criminal to be present near you all the time. It might happen through Internet too. The criminal might just send you an email, that looks like a genuine message from your bank asking you to submit your credit card number, ATM card pin number, online banking password, etc. – for “security” reasons. And you might unsuspectingly enter all the credentials, click on submit button and the website thanks you for entering all this information. But then, did you ever think even once, before submitting your credentials – why would your bank ask for your password, when it would already be present in their records. But, then it’s too late, since the criminal would now impersonate you and go on a shopping spree. He might even use your credit card number to subscribe himself to online erotica or pornographic websites. The crime he just committed is called Phishing.
Other type of Identity Theft includes bank fraud, credit card fraud, computer and telecommunications fraud, social program fraud, tax refund fraud, mail fraud, and several more.
How does it happen?
As I said earlier, it’s not at all necessary for the criminal to be present near you to steal your personal information. In public places, for example, criminals may engage in shoulder surfing—watching you from a nearby location as you punch in your telephone calling card number or credit card number or listen in on your conversation if you give your credit-card number over the telephone to a hotel or rental car company. Shoulder surfing might also allow people to view your email message, in case you happen to be surfing the Net in a public place. Even the area near your home or office may not be secure. Some criminals might just go through your garbage cans or trash bin, to obtain copies of your checks, credit card or bank statements that you might have just “thrown” into the garbage can.
Just one wrong mouse click, while you are hooked up to the Net, might also land you in trouble. The criminal might just spam you with unsolicited email that contains an attachment – perhaps Pamela Andersons picture. You might just click over the attachment in excitement and then nothing happens on the screen. You delete the mail thinking that the file must have been corrupted. But little did you realize that the “picture” was actually a key logger or a Trojan in disguise. A key logger is a simple program that runs in the background, recording every keystroke of yours and then makes it accessible to the criminal, when you log onto the Internet. A Trojan on the other hand does more – it might just allow the criminal to take over your PC remotely, allowing the criminal to scan through your hard drives for personal information.
Other ways might include false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards, or obtaining other goods or privileges – which the criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name.
So how do you prevent your identity from being stolen? Watch this space for more soon…
*This article first appeared in www.TheCheers.org