How to Defend Yourself Against Identity Theft
Last Updated: 09-01-2010 , Posted: 09-01-2006
What is Identity Theft
Identity theft is a crime whereby criminals impersonate individuals, usually for financial gain. In today's society, you often need to reveal personal bits of information about yourself, such as social security numbers, a signature, name, address, phone numbers, and even banking and credit card information. If a thief is able to access this personal information, he or she can use it to commit fraud in your name. With this information the thief could do things such as apply for loans or new credit card accounts. They can then request a billing address change and run up your existing credit card without you knowledge. They can also use counterfeit checks and debit cards, or authorize electronic transfers in your name, to wipe out your your bank account.
Identity theft can also go beyond this type of a monetary impact. Thieves can use your information to obtain a driver's license or other documentation that would display their photo but your name and information. With these documents thieves could to obtain a job and file fraudulent income tax returns, apply for travel documents, file insurance claims, or even provide your name and mailing address to police and other authorities if involved in other criminal activities.
Using Information on the Internet for Identity Theft
The outcome of identity theft is usually the same, regardless of how the thief obtains your information. However, the Internet is providing new ways for people to steal your personal information and to commit fraud. Thieves can accomplish their goal several ways such as using Internet chat rooms and spreading Trojan horses that drop key loggers on your computer to transit any passwords, usernames and credit card numbers you use on your computer back to the thieves. Many online businesses today also store personal information about customers and shopper son their Web sites, and that information used when a person returns to the Web site. This provides another way for your personal information to be accessed.
Additionally, e-mail phishing, thieves attempt to gather your personal information. Phishing e-mails falsely claim to be an established legitimate enterprise in an attempt to scam you into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. The e-mail will direct you to visit a Web site where you're asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers — information the legitimate organization already has. The Web site, however, is bogus and set up only to steal your information.
Is Internet Identity Theft Cause for Concern?
Internet-based identity fraud is a problem and is something that makes many people hesitant about making a purchase online, or signing up for what others consider everyday occurrences such as creating a PayPal account, purchasing from e-commerce sites, using auction Web sites or even using Internet banking and checking their credit card statements online.
While Internet identity theft is definitely a hot topic in the media today, Internet identity theft actually accounts for only a small percentage of the total identity theft fraud cases.
A recent survey by Javelin Strategy & Research of Pleasanton indicated that identity fraud, as a percentage of of the United States adult population went down to 4 percent between 2003 and 2006. In addition the report also claims that 90 percent of this identity theft takes place through traditional offline channels and not through the Internet.
Using Computer (Cyber) Forensics to Fight Identity Theft
Computer forensics (also called cyber forensics), is the application of scientifically proven methods to gather, process, interpret and use digital evidence to provide a conclusive description of cyber crime activities. Cyber forensics also includes the act of making digital data suitable for inclusion into a criminal investigation. Once a thief has obtained data, computers are often used to create false identification, counterfeit checks, and other documents to commit fraud. Computer forensics plays a big role in helping law enforcement officials identify both the victims and perpetrators of identity theft.
How to Protect Yourself
The Federal Trade Commission is one of many organizations that provides valuable facts and information to consumers concerning identity theft, including preventative and resolutions to identity theft concerns. For consumers who believe they are a victim of identity theft, the FTC recommends you take immediate steps to protect yourself such as placing fraud alerts on your credit cards, filing police reports, and filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. It is also important to resolve specific fraudulent usage with organizations responsible for your bank accounts, credit cards, driver's license, investment funds, debt collectors and others.
Lastly, there are recommended everyday practices, such as keeping an eye on postal mail to ensure your bills are arriving when they should be, and taking the time to properly dispose of paper documents that may contain credit card numbers and other identifying personal information. The more private and secure you keep your personal identifying information, the less susceptible to identify theft you are.
Did You Know...
According to two studies done in July 2003 (Gartner Research and Harris Interactive), approximately 7 million people became victims of identity theft in the prior 12 months. That equals 19,178 per day, 799 per hour, 13.3 per minute. [Source Identity Theft resource Center]
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