Identity Theft

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) asserts that a stolen identity is a powerful tool of anonymity for terrorists and criminals and poses a danger to private citizens and national security (Berghel, 2012). Berghel (2012) defines identity theft as the deliberate use of another person’s private information, such as insurance card number or full name to gain economic advantage or obtain other benefits at the expense of the person. The current increase of identity theft is due to many ways that people process information that makes it easier for identity thieves to access our personal data. Advances in technology now allow people to undertake most of their tasks electronically and constantly. It is easy to pass private information such as credit card numbers and identification card numbers from computer to computer in different geographical locations through the internet. It is, therefore, imperative to critically assess trends in identity theft and how it impacts on individuals.

For many years, criminals have been using tax notices, bank statements, discredited credit card receipts and other bills to gain personal data required to steal the identity of another person. [1] The trend is, however, changing with the advancement in the electronic field, and these criminals are utilizing technology to develop new strategies of theft in the form of cybercrimes. According to a study by the United States Department of Justice, in 2012, the country lost $24.7 billion to identity theft, $15.4 billion in 2014 and $16 billion in 2016 (Harrell & Langton, 2013). Identity thieves use stolen information to file taxes, fraudulently apply for credit cards, or get health services. These acts can damage the stole person’s credit card and cost them substantial amounts of cash to repair the damage left such as clearing their name in law agencies. There are various types of identity thefts including child identity theft, identity concealment, medical identity theft, criminal identity theft, and financial identity theft.

In financial identity theft, a person gains economic benefits in someone else’s name, and it includes using a stolen identity to buy goods and services or get credit and loans. Child identity theft is a scenario when an impostor uses a minor’s identity for personal gain.[2] Social security numbers of children are of value because they are easy to find. Most of the times, thieves can obtain a driving license, establish lines of credit or buy a house using the stolen identity of a child. It is vital to note that child identity cases can go undetected for years because most children fail to discover the problem early (Hedayati, 2012).

Medical identity is also on the rise and occurs when a person seeks medical services under the identity of another person, such as through insurance cards. In criminal identity theft, a criminal presents fake documents and the authorities may place charges under the victim’s name. Concerning identity concealment and cloning, a thief impersonates someone else to hide their own identity, for example, the case of illegal immigrants. Furthermore, social identity theft is also on the rise with thieves using photos, names and other personal information to create a fake social media platform. Social media platforms function based on the personal information that users provide. Cybercriminals can easily guess passwords based on the items that users post online. Moreover, some criminals even go further to create fake company accounts and lure consumers into sending money (Berghel, 2012).

Identity theft impacts significantly on individuals and may cost them substantial amounts of money. For example, in the case of medical identity theft, the victim faces the risk of financial harms as well as danger to health. The thief’s medical information is added to the victim’s records resulting in inaccurate medical records that are hard to correct and may cause doctors to rely on misinformation to deliver inappropriate health care. Concerning criminal identity theft, it is hard for a victim to clear their record because it is dependent on the jurisdiction’s ability to determine the identity of the imposter first. Moreover, the police may list the name of the victim as an alias, and while the police and courts may clear the records, other data aggregators may still possess incorrect criminal records. Langton (2011) contends that victims of identity theft get little help from the police because the law enforcement has to handle many such cases (Langton, 2011). As such, most victims spend a lot of time in law agencies proving their innocence and clearing their names and feel helpless and violated.

Due to the growing issue of identity theft, organizations and individuals are working to determine various ways to prevent the issue. One of this ways is through the privacy of personal data. Protection of personal information especially on the internet is vital to prevent both fraud and impersonation (Reyns, 2013). As companies continue to collect more information from consumers, it becomes easy for criminals to acquire it. Therefore, there is the need for organizations to protect consumer’s personal information. Besides that, there is the need to prevent fraudulent transactions to deter criminals from impersonating legitimate users to a financial institution. Therefore, such organizations should ensure users keep their password in a secure and virus free machine.

[1] They obtain such documents from rummaging through rubbish, from IT equipment and phones, from public records about citizens or stealing ID, passports or credit cards from mails, housebreak, or pickpocketing.

[2] Social Security numbers of children offer clean slates used to commit frauds for years without detection.

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