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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Conduct all online transactions through websites that offer data encryption facilities (such as protected by a firm that offers online security).
- 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.
- 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.
- Register for mobile alerts to monitor activity in your bank accounts. Update essential information like address and mobile number as and when necessary.
- 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.