Running Head: Identity theft
Identity theft can be defined as a crime or fraud where someone pretends to be what he or she is not in order to get certain benefits or steal money. It is also sometimes known as iJacking. The term is a misnomer as naturally it is impossible to steal someone’s identity. Thus, an identity thief uses a person’s identity by obtaining his important personal information, like driving license number or bank account number, so as to impersonate him. The impersonator can use this information to obtain merchandize, credit or other stuff using the victim’s name. He can also give fake identification to police authorities who may issue arrest warrants or issue criminal records in the name of the victim. The identity thieves mainly look for the victim’s name, date of birth, social security number, account numbers, address, online user IDs, personal identification numbers and internet passwords. (Kar, 2005)
The Identity Theft Resource Center along with other sources has divided identity theft into five classes. They are:
1. Financial identity theft – It takes place when a victim’s identity is used to acquire credit, goods or services. It further has two versions:
° The impersonator can open new accounts in the victim’s name or by using a fake identity. He can then use the victim’s goodwill and credit history to get funds, like loans, or an account that he can overdraft.
° The impersonator can also get funds, by pretending as an existing account holder, from a genuine bank account belonging to the victim. For this, the perpetrator has to obtain a PIN code or card number of the victim and use that for accessing funds through an ATM or branch teller.
It is very difficult for the victims to discover financial identity theft. They can only understand when they are denied loans or there are complaints in their credit history or if they are contacted by the creditors. Their credit reports may be greatly affected unless they are able to prove that they are not responsible for the frauds.
We can also categorize financial identity theft into two ways. They are:
° True name identity theft – It implies that the impersonator uses the victim’s personal document and information for opening new bank accounts. The impersonator may establish a new cellular phone service or create a checking account to acquire blank checks or open a credit card bank account.
° Account takeover identity theft – It implies that the impersonator uses the victim’s personal documents and information for accessing the victim’s existing accounts. Even before the victim realizes the problem, the impersonator changes the victim’s address and increases billing amount. (Khosravi, 2003)
2. Identity concealment and cloning – A situation of identity concealment and cloning arises when an impersonator obtains personal identifiers of the victim and impersonates the victim in order to hide from authorities. The impersonator mainly does this to avoid getting arrested for a crime, be able to illegally work in a foreign country or to be able to hide from creditors and other people. Unlike financial identity theft, identity concealment may continue to take place for an indefinite period without being discovered. To create an extremely concealed and convincing impersonation the impersonator may even attempt to obtain fake IDs and documents that are coherent with the actual cloned identity. (King, 2005)
3. Criminal identity theft – It takes place when an impersonator presents himself as a different individual, i.e. as the victim, in front of authorities. To do this the impersonator has to obtain national IDs or personal documents belonging to the victim or simple fake them. When the police arrest the impersonator, they present their fake IDs and criminal charges are placed under the victim’s name. The impersonator is then released, but when he fails to attend his court hearing, the warrant that is issued is in the victim’s name. The victims discover the fraud when they are arrested or a background check is done on them. The process of clearing the victim’s record is a difficult one and sometimes the authorities may forever list the victim’s name as the criminal’s alias. (Vinton, 1999)
4. Synthetic identity theft – It has recently become very common and takes place when the identity acquired by the impersonator is partially or completely made up. The most common process of doing this is by combining an actual social security number of one victim with the name and date of birth of another victim. It is probably the most difficult to track of all the identity thefts as the credit score of neither of the victims will show the fraud directly but will actually appear as a completely new entry or as a sub-file of the credit report of the victims in the credit bureau. This mainly harms the creditors who unknowingly grant credit to the impersonators. The name of the victims may be confused with the false identities and harmful information in their credit report may affect their credit. (Lamb, 2004)
5. Medical identity theft – It occurs when the impersonator uses the victim’s personal information, health insurance documents, to acquire drugs, various medical treatments or even obtain compensations from insurers through false claims. Thus, it is possible that our health care documents or medical history may contain other people’s information. This can even be life threatening for us. For example we may be given wrong blood type during a surgery or the records may even show a surgery we may have never had or leave out those which we have had. In the future, our doctors may perform accurate diagnosis relying on the false records that may delay our proper treatment and we may even loose our life. (Lamb, 2004)
Identity theft is not at all a new crime. It has merely mutated itself by including new technologies like ATMs and online banking. Nowadays it is even easier for the identity thieves to use stolen information due to the advent of the Internet since transactions can be made online eliminating personal interactions. Due to the automation of the banking transactions and credit cards it has become easier for the imposters to steal other people’s identities. Credit cards are often used for verifying people’s identities and thus, an impersonator can pretend to be someone else by using their credit card. (Roberts, 2003) This also enables them to steal money. Thus, all the impersonator really has to do is obtain a succession of appropriate numbers for completing the crime. The victim of identity theft can suffer serious consequences if held responsible in place of the imposter. The various activities that are undertaken by the impersonators may even cause the victims to loose their jobs. Medical identity thefts can even cause us to loose our lives or the lives of our near and dear ones. Many countries have specific laws against using other’s identity for ones personal gains. (Madhav, 2006)
In order to avoid identity theft we regularly verify our credit scores with the credit bureaus, destroy any unwanted credit applications, confirm with our creditors if our bills are not on time and protect ourselves by not broadcasting our personal information in unknown e-mails. Identity theft can also be used for facilitating crimes like espionage, illegal immigration, blackmail and terrorism. The imposters can attack the payment systems, online processing of credit cards and even our medical insurance. Some imposters can even impersonate, as the victim, for various non-financial reasons, like to get attention or praise for other people’s achievements. This is occasionally known as media identity theft. (Fletcher, 2003)
However, assuming someone’s identity with his or her approval and knowledge, like giving an exam in someone’s place or cheating cannot be considered as identity theft. It has a very broad concept and mainly deals with credit card hoaxes. There are many techniques used by the imposters to obtain personal identification, information and documents of the victims and can ranges from stealing their mail, going through their rubbish for paper documents, stealing it from their computers and files to infiltrating organizations which store huge numbers of personal data. Over the years a large number of innocent people have been arrested due to people who have committed crimes exploiting their names. It is among the fastest developing crimes in the USA and the victims have to spend huge amount of money and time in order to resolve their problems due to identity theft. (Roberts, 2003)
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Kar, P; 2005; Information Technology and related applications; Dasgupta & Chatterjee pp 145
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King, H; 2005; Information System Today; HBT & Brooks Ltd. pp 126
Lamb, Davis; 2004; Cult to Culture: The Development of Civilization on the Strategic Strata; National Book Trust; pp 243-245
Madhav, S; June, 2006; The Effective Measures in Operations; Computer Network Today; Volume 3, Issue 6; Alliance Publishers
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