What is Online Identity Theft?
Cybercrime has become so common that in 2016 it was the 2nd most common criminal activity around the world. Among these cybercriminal activities, one of the most commonly reported cases is of online identity theft, which has become a serious concern for not just organizations but also individuals.
What is Online Identity Theft?
Online identity theft is when someone accesses the personal information of another person and uses it or attempt to use it for personal gain or any fraudulent activity, such as using debit or credit card, receiving government benefits, opening a new bank account, etc. The personal information may include financial, medical, phone number, address and other such information that is often kept confidential.
There has been a rapid increase in the number of online identity theft complains around the world.
This is mostly due to the increase in data breaches, which rose to a staggering1,579 breaches in 2017, an increase of 44% from previous year, which exposed around 179 million records.
The consequences of identity theft are endured by the victim, which cost them thousands of dollars and months or maybe a year to resolve the issue and cover the damage.
In 2006, a woman named Anndorie Sachs was charged with $10,000 in a medical bill as a result of identity theft.
Victims may also have to face issues like credit card bills.
A more serious issue victim could face is when their identity was used to commit some non-financial crime.
In such a case, the victim may have to spend months or years in clearing their name from criminal records.
The repercussions of identity theft for a victim depends on the type of identity theft he experienced.
An identity thief requires some personal information of a person in order to steal their identity.
The type of identity thefts depends on the purpose of stealing the information. Here are some common types of online identity theft.
Financial Identity Theft
One of the common types of identity theft is stealing personal information to make a purchase or other financial transaction using the victim’s credit card or money. This type of theft also includes gaining other financial benefits in the name of that person.
Medical Identity Theft
This when a thief steals the personal information to gain the victim’s health insurance for himself. As a result, the victim gets medical bills for something they haven’t used. Apart from medical bills, it may also happen that the victim might have some incorrect information added to their medical record, like a positive drug test. This could cause many issues for them, like missing a job opportunity or getting wrong treatment from the doctor. The latter could prove to be life-threatening for them.
Criminal Identity Theft
Stolen personal information can also be used by criminals to pose as the victim at the time arrest or when committing a crime.
This can also cause serious issues for the victim as they may end up getting a criminal record in their name.
In this type of theft, the identity thief may have a fake driver license or other paperwork with the victim’s information on it to back up his claim.
Methods of Online Identity Theft
Here are some common methods scammers may use to steal personal information and commit online identity theft crime.
Hackers mostly target corporates by illegally accessing their data centers and revealing or stealing confidential information, like personal information of their customers.
This is what we call a data breach. The stolen information is then used for identity theft-related crimes.
Another method of stealing personal information is by tricking people into entering their personal information.
Scammers usually do this by sending emails or showing pop messages to people while pretending to be a legit organization and ask them to enter their personal information.
Malicious software, like malware, spyware, ransomware, keyloggers, etc., is used to access personal information stored on the computer it affects.
Skimming is the method of stealing credit or debit card information by attaching a device with an ATM machine that reads the magnetic strip on the card.
Scammers can hack social profile of a person and steal personal information, like address, phone number, credit card, etc.
They may also use this profile to scam someone else by asking them personal information. In such cases, the victim of identity theft could also become a suspect of stealing someone else’s identity.
Methods to Protect Against Online Identity Theft
When it comes to identity theft, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Here are some methods of protecting against personal information to avoid becoming the next victim of online identity theft.
Keep OS Updated
One of the most essential methods of preventing online identity theft is keeping the OS up to date with latest patches and updates. Most of the latest updates in Windows are security updates, which is why it is obvious to always keep the updates on.
Keep Anti-Virus Installed and Updated
Since a huge number of online identity theft are caused by malicious software, it makes sense to use anti-virus software on all the devices. Installing anti-virus software installed is not enough, it is also necessary to keep it up to date, just like with OS.
When shopping online or browsing any website where one need to enter their personal information, like a credit card, make sure that the website has “HTTPS” in its URL, which is also represented by a green padlock. HTTPS means that the connection of a user with the website is encrypted. However, when entering personal information on a website, make sure it is a legitimate website to avoid phishing scams.
Keeping accounts and information password protected is basic. However, the password must be something that is not simple and cannot be guessed. Include upper and lowercase alphabets, special characters, and numbers. Avoid using birthdate, age or any such obvious thing in the passwords. Avoid using the same password for all the accounts as well.
Keep The Bank and Credit Card Transactions Monitored
Since credit card fraud is the most common type of identity theft, it is better to check the bank statement and credit card transactions daily. One may also enable transaction alerts on the credit card as most of the banks provide such service. This way, if a person receives any unexpected transaction alerts, they can immediately take the required action.
What to do in Case of Online Identity Theft
Unfortunately, even after all those preventions and safety measures online identity theft can still happen, though the chances are very slim.
But in case if that happens, it is best to know the actions that can be taken to avoid further damage.
The First thing the victim needs to do is to inform the financial institution of the situation.
If a credit card was compromised, they must put the fraud alert on it.
This will send notice to financial institutions that in case if the credit card is used to avail some loan or credit, they will have to take extra steps to verify the person’s identity.
Second, inform the relevant agency that deals with identity theft and related frauds.
File a report with them so it can be shown to the police when they come for investigation.
In case if a person suspects the cause of identity theft was some malicious software or anything that was installed recently, then scan the affected device with anti-virus.
If the device is really infected by some malicious software, it will come to light and will be removed immediately.
In case if the cause of identity theft was a data breach or stolen device, change all the passwords.
Since online identity theft is on a rise and everyone is in danger of being the next victim, this is the right time to start taking safety measures to prevent any such thing happening to you.