Start Protecting your Identity Today
06 Jul, 2017
Identity theft as crime has been increasing at an alarming rate and the offender could be a known individual or someone who has no connection to you. As an offshoot of this type of felony, financial identity theft is at an all-time high. These instances are no long few and far flung and occur in innumerable ways.
- In April 2010, a US court sentenced an Indian named Jaisanker Marimuthu to 81 months in prison. A native of Chennai, his crime was hacking into brokerage accounts in the USA and using them to acquire thinly-traded stocks. Upon the prices of these stocks rising, he would then sell his own holdings, pocketing a neat profit.
- In May 2011 and again in June 2011, hackers broke into Sony’s databases and stole passwords of millions of online gamers.
Both these incidents are instances of identity theft, wherein the victim’s critical information is stolen and misused for financial gains. This includes the victim’s name, signature, phone numbers, address, bank account numbers, credit card details and so on. Aside from the financial loss that the victim faces, he/she may also face criminal charges due to crimes committed while their identity was stolen.
Myriad ways of theft
- Identity theft doesn’t just happen online; it takes place in the real world too. For instance, whenever you apply for anything, photocopies of documents for proof of identity, residence, etc. must be submitted. Criminals, often in collusion with those in a position of authority, make use of the documents to apply for different things in your name.
- Another point to note is that not all ID thefts are high-tech; many make use of old-fashioned approaches to gain vital information. Lurking around the victim, looking over their shoulder as they fill in important details to steal information, tearing through garbage dumps and even gathering mailers from banks and credit card and ATM receipts are offline ways of amassing information about the intended victim.
- Online, there are legions of ways criminals use to steal vital information. There could be usage of trojans (a type of malware) that drop keyloggers on your computer and transfer user names, passwords, credit card details, and bank account details as you enter them on the computer to the thief.
- Email phishing is another approach wherein the victim receives an email whose design and header show the sender to be a bona fide organization. Upon opening the mail, you get redirected to a website which looks quite legitimate and asked to update sensitive information. The site is simply a ruse to get victims to give up vital information.
- An offline version of this kind of ID theft takes place over the phone and is referred to as ‘vishing’. Here, the criminal poses as an employee of an important organization such as your bank, and then tries to obtain vital information under the guise of performing verification on behalf of the organization.
- Any online activity such as playing video games requires one to fill in their credit/debit card details. Children thus, become vulnerable to ID theft too. During searching for the best games online, your child could visit illegitimate sites that for all appearances are like gaming sites, but are mere fronts for stealing credit-card information.
- Retail outlets are notorious for skimming. Cards are often moved out of the owner’s sight under the pretext of the machine not working and the card is swiped in a skimmer, a hand-held device that can read the information on the magnetic strip of your credit card. Subsequently, the card can be used to make online purchases or at places where the physical card is not necessary. Following a change of address, vast bills are run up in your name.
What can be done to safeguard oneself?
Combating sophisticated ways of identity thefts might seem like a losing battle because everyone is susceptible to such crimes. But certain precautions can be taken to keep out of harm’s way.
- Invest in purchasing original security software that can keep out malware, scan emails and download with anti-phishing tools and warn against malware-ridden websites and downloads. Such software contains firewalls that can detect trojans, worms and repel attacks by hackers. Data encryption is also possible to avoid information getting stolen over an open wi-fi network.
- Conduct all online transactions through websites that offer data encryption facilities (such as protected by a firm that offers online security). Whenever possible, avoid conducting transactions that require sensitive information while using public computers or open wi-fi networks.
- Be wary of wary of indiscriminately opening, unsolicited emails.
- Nowadays, most people have multiple online accounts and passwords and for convenience, the same user name and password gets used for all accounts. This should be avoided to ensure that other accounts aren’t rendered useless if hacking takes place. User names and passwords shouldn’t be written down but instead must be committed to memory. Common details such as names and birthdays of oneself or close relatives shouldn’t be used as passwords to avoid east detection.
- In case you hold a lot of credit cards and most of your transactions occur online, buying an insurance policy from a general insurer is a good idea. One such policy will take care of liabilities arising from all your cards. Once you are covered, in the instance that your safety gets compromised, one alert sent to the insurance company will block all your cards, thereby limiting your losses.
- Register for mobile alerts to monitor activity in your bank accounts. Update essential information like address and mobile number as and when necessary. Opt for monthly statements from both your bank and card issuer. If you do not receive these statements, follow up to ensure that they do. Once you do receive them, scan them for transactions you may not have conducted.
- While watching any widely televised event online, visit only well-known and popular web sites for the latest news and pictures of the event. At such times, millions of people scour the Internet for information or pictures and cyber criminals set up websites that encourage victims to download apps containing malware.
Precautions can be taken at an offline level too.
- Whenever photocopied documents are provided while making an application, write your name on them and a message, “This document is submitted by (your name) for (whatever the purpose)” on the document to avoid its reuse by an impostor. In public settings, be discreet while filling in sensitive information. Shred all vital papers before consigning them to the bin.
- Never reveal any vital information over the phone if you have not initiated the call and don’t know the person at the other end.
Identity theft is not only a major threat to the individual on the financial front, their personal security and well-being can also take a considerable hit. And while there are no guarantees, observing these simple precautions will, to a large extent, keep you safe against identity theft.