Identity Theft: A Growing threat
Updated: Oct 25, 2021
“Although nothing can guarantee that you will never become an identity theft victim. With the widespread availability of personal information and the increasing exposure from data breaches, the risk is ever present”
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Identity theft is a widespread problem affecting approximately 8 million people every year. A common scenario involves an offender who obtain or buys a victim’s personally identifying information from an acquaintance or employee of an agency with access to such information. The offender then, uses such information to acquire or produce additional identity-related confidential documents such as licence, credit cards or even bank account related information. The various Cyber techniques amongst others through which data is stolen are Hacking, Phishing, E-Mail/SMS Spoofing, Carding and Vishing. Data which is stolen include Property ID, Passport ID, Driver's license ID, Social Security ID, Medical ID, Character/Criminal ID and Financial ID. Some of the tell-tale signs may include when cheque get refused by bank, doubtful EMIs are debited from account, unfamiliar charges on credit report, medical providers bill for services which weren’t used and receiving a message that information was compromised by a data.
The report and findings from annual Cyber Safety Insights Report, Pune shows that nearly 4 in 10 respondents experienced identity theft in India. The problem is compounded by the fact that approximately 63 percent are unaware about identity theft and have no idea related to deal with such crimes.
According to US Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (1998), Identity Theft is termed as unlawful if a person knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal Law, or that constitutes a felony under law. The term identity theft i.e. the misuse of an individual’s personal information to commit frauds, is often applied to a wide range of crimes, including checking account fraud, counterfeiting, forgery, theft using false documentation, human trafficking and terrorism. The U.S Department of Justice, explains identity theft as a type 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 gains (Buraeu of Justice Assistance, 2005). According to National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), identity theft involves three kinds of behaviours:
Unauthorized use of attempted use of existing credit card.
Unauthorized use or attempted use of existing credit cards.
Misuse of personal information to obtain new accounts or loans or to commit other crimes.
Reason for Increase in Identity Theft
Like the most offenders, identity thieves are motivated by a need for money. For some of the experienced identity thieves, the need for stealing money is fuelled by a desire to maintain a luxury living, often characterized by drug use or alcohol consumption. It is claimed that in every minute about 19 innocent people fall victim to identity theft (Kalera & D’cruz, 2016). Others use the proceeds of their crimes to support a conventional life, including paying rent, mortgages, or utilities, or buying the latest technological gadgets. The desire for more money stands out to be the most common motivation from street-level to white collar offenders.
Victims of Identity Theft
Anyone can become a victim of identity theft, including newborns and the deceased. These groups are ‘unique’ in the sense that the people whose information is used illegally are often intentionally chosen. Their information is used by such fraudsters to defraud others, usually business or confidential information from big firms is gathered illegally. Victims of fraud can experience more than severe financial consequences. Their victimization experiences can include legal complications, damaged relationships, physical health problems and trauma responses similar to those of victims of violent crime. Further, fraud often overlaps with other victimization experiences even leading to child exploitation and domestic violence. The making and the understanding of these crimes is important for the potential victims and service providers of all types.
Identity Theft in India
Identity theft and fictitious identity cases, all together accounts for about 77% out of the overall fraud cases happening in India. These crimes are more common among young adults. Person with ages 25 to 64 (8%) had higher prevalence rates of identity theft than aged 18 to 24 (4%) and 65 or older (6%) (Kalera & D’cruz, 2016). As per one of the research reports, it was found that identity theft and cyber-crime appear to be more common among men (44%) than women (33%) and it was found that such thefts are more commonly practiced within the age group of younger adults (18-39 years) (JJP, 2018).
With due advancements and to cope with the ongoing digitalization, online facilities for storing and sharing any kind of information is on rise. Despite all security measures, there is a possibility of some loopholes in the process of safeguarding the online information of millions in the country. The identity thieves find these loopholes and work through them to extract the information they need for their gains. The work of these filches become quite easy when the user who is sharing the information is easily influenced to share it to unknown sources, or he doesn’t keep a check on his data and leaves it unattended. The poor computer illiteracy rate in India fuels up the fraud. Most of them are not aware of what an identity theft or a security breach is and often end up helping the thieves to obtain the confidential information easily. Usually this population is fooled in the form of phone calls, emails, online advertisements by asking their bank details and financial statements directly with a false promise of providing well-disguised profits. This is the reason why India ranks in the top ten most affected countries facing the threat of Identity theft (Rai. D., 2020).
Success at Identity Theft requires that the would-be offenders not only secure identifying information but also convert the available information into goods and cash with the help of access to this information. Identity thieves have developed a number of techniques and strategies to do just this (Miller, 2009):
Acquiring Identity Information
The first step in the successful commission of identity theft is to obtain personal information of the victim. This task is relatively easy for offenders to do. Offenders obtain this information through Cyber Crimes or from wallets, homes, cars, offices, business or institutions that maintain customer, employee, patient or student records.
After obtaining a victim’s information, offenders often use it to acquire or produce additional identity related documents such as driver licenses or identification cards in an attempt to gain cash or goods. Often offenders apply for credit cards in the victim’s name including major credit cards, open new bank accounts and deposit, counterfeit, cheque, withdraw money with existing bank account, apply for loan, open utilities or phone accounts or even apply for public assistance program. Long back in 2006 it was identified that, the most common type of identity theft was credit card fraud (25%), followed by ‘other’ identity theft (24%), phone or utility frauds (16%), bank frauds (16%), employment-related frauds (14%), government document or benefit frauds (10%), and loan frauds (5%) (JJP, 2018). The similar trend is expected in India as well.
Available data suggests that the majority of victims are unaware and unknown to their offenders. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Reports suggests that 84% of victims were either unaware thief, 6% of victim were under relation with the offenders i.e. often a family member, 8% reported the thieves were the friend, neighbor, or in-home employee of the victim and 2% reported that the thief was a co-worker (Synovate, 2003).
Some Techniques Involved in Identity Theft
It is a traditional technique used to retrieve information that could be used to carry out an act of forging. Personal information can be gathered using confidential information carrying documents like financial statements, cheques, bills, credit cards etc.
It is a criminal practice where thieves steal your personal data by spying over your shoulder. This may occur any time when you’re sharing personal information in a public place which often include victim’s key in PINs while using ATMs or overhearing the victim sharing personal information.
It is a criminal act of deceiving people into sharing sensitive information like passwords and credit card number. Recently a case was highlighted in which one of the reputed Indian bank registered a crime stating that some persons perpetrated certain acts through misleading emails send to the regular customers. This act was perpetrated with intent to defraud the customer. In a number of cases, a spoofing mail from certain anonymous ID was received by the head of the organization claiming to defame and damage the company and its working. Thus, awareness and alertness towards the digital world is immensely necessary.
Prevention from Becoming Victimized
Below are some suggestions in the form of proactive and reactive rules to protect yourself (Dr. Donald Rebovich, n.d.):
Safeguard Social Security Number (SSN)
These numbers are the personal and financial information carrying keys and thus, the entry point for identity theft. It is recommended that one should never write the key anywhere open to public exposure. All the personal identifying personal information must be kept secret and protected.
The shredder is the easiest, relatively inexpensive and best method to protect yourself from dumpster diving. Items can be shredded using preapproved credit card offers, convenience checks, bank statements etc.
Reduce Exposure to Mail Theft
Use a locking technique to protect the privacy. If this is not obtained, consider using a post office box or box at a private mail receiving agency to transfer the belonging.
Practice Computer and Internet Safety
Ensure that your computer has adequate firewall protection and current operating system; enable password protection; encrypt your network; use strong passwords to protect against unauthorized access.
Be Cautious and Alert at ATMs
Look for suspicious devices, hidden cameras. Do not use the ATM if something doesn’t looks normal. Use a one hand shield to cover your other hand as you enter your PIN. Don’t leave your receipts at the ATM.
Write All the Details
One must write down all the details related to account numbers, expiry dates, credit card verification numbers, wallet deposits and others.
Use Privacy Screens
Use these screens while travelling to ensure privacy. Such screens can keep prying eyes off your personal documents especially when you are travelling. It is always good to be vigilant.
Becoming a Victim
§ Immediately contact the Police and Cyber Crime divisions and report the crime.
§ Get bank report to determine the extent of victimization.
§ File an online Identity Theft Complaint under legal provisions.
§ Document the event in writing and create a paper trial.
§ Follow up the reports and necessities and regularly monitor your accounts and history.
In India, the crime of identity theft involves wrongful collection of personal identity of an individual and its use with an intention of causing legal harm to that person information. An identity theft involves both theft and fraud, therefore the provisions with regard to forgery as provided under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) are often invoked along with the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act). Sections of IPC such as forgery (Section 464), making false documents (Section 465), forgery for purpose of cheating (Section 468), reputation (Section 469), using as genuine a forged document (Section 471) and possession of a document known to be forged and intending to use it as genuine (Section 474) are coupled with those legislations governing cybercrimes. Some of the Sections dealing with Identity theft are: -
Section 66B deals with the punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device.
Section 66C provides for punishment for Identity theft as: Whoever, fraudulently or dishonestly make use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment and liable to fine.
Section 66 D deals to punish cheating by impersonation using computer resources.
We at DRASInt Risk Alliance Private Limited aim to investigate the organized corporate crimes, with an intention to disclose the factual information and reveal the illegal practices.
Buraeu of Justice Assistance. (2005). PREVENTING IDENTITY THEFT : a GUIDE for CONSUMERS. Retrieved from http://www.ncpc.org/cms-upload/prevent/files/IDtheftrev.pdf
Dr. Donald Rebovich. (n.d.). Most Common Schemes - Identity Crimes - Center for Identity Management and Information Protection (CIMIP) - Utica College. Retrieved from http://www.utica.edu/academic/institutes/cimip/idcrimes/schemes.cfm
ET. (2020). 4 in 10 Indians have experienced identity theft_ Report - The Economic Times.
ITADA. (1998). Input financial definition of input. Retrieved from https://financial-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/input
JJP. (2018). Identity Theft _ Facts & Figures _ Office of Justice Programs.
Kalera, A., & D’cruz, D. (2016). Identity Theft is the largest contributor to Fraud in India. (February 2016), 18–21.
Miller, J. M. (2009). 21st century criminology: A reference handbook. In 21st Century Criminology: A Reference Handbook. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781412971997
Rai. (n.d.). How is Identity Theft a Growing Threat to Families - iPleaders.
Singh, S. sahay. (2017). The cyber con artists of Jamtara - The Hindu.
Synovate. (2003). Identity Theft Survey Report. Federal Trade Commission, 93. Retrieved from http://www.ftc.gov/os/2003/09/synovatereport.pdf
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