IDENTITY THEFT is the practice of obtaining (and assuming) the personal or financial identity of an individual with the express purpose of simulating their would-be behavior. Such practices do not always involve obtaining one’s sensitive data illegally, though this tends to be an integral component of the sourcing process. The targets and victims of identity theft are often of mixed debt, financial and credit status.
The widespread use of Internet-capable devices and the data they store and create have exposed consumers to a litany of privacy and security issues. The epidemic of big data is just as important as its enterprise. To fathom each possible use case for stolen data is impractical, but generally, identity theft is sorted into four (4) critical functions: Criminal, minor (children), medical, or financial.
Criminal Identity Theft
The practice of criminal identity theft is multi-faceted and existed long before the days of the Internet. Typically, it involves someone who is cited or arrested posing as someone else. The criminal may provide the name, social security number or driver’s license of another person to avoid a court summons, or arrest warrants for previous crimes they’ve committed. In turn, the victim is stuck with a record that could result in detainment, false convictions and even job loss.
Child Identity Theft
Like criminal identity theft, compromising the identity of a minor was (and continues to be) a trend mostly practiced offline, although the Internet has made it arguably easier. A child’s information tends to be lucrative since children are generally free from the burden of debt and other baggage that comes with being an adult. There are cases where the social security numbers of children have been used to take up new houses, turn on utilities and even find employment. The perpetrator tends to be a parent or someone closely related to the children.
Medical Identity Theft
Also known as insurance fraud, this fallacious activity involves people who misrepresent their identity to obtain free or subsidized medical coverage. Cyber insurance is an emerging market which may be helpful in countering the likes of insurance fraud.
Financial Identity Theft
In the age of the Internet, financial identity theft is the most common of all four (4) types. It involves the perpetrator—usually with an advanced technical skillset—obtaining the necessary data to gain access to the victim’s financial accounts or establish credit in their name. A host of methods may be used to lift an individual’s financial data, including hacking and targeted attacks.
Identity theft isn’t just restricted to people. For-profit, not-for-profit and exempt organizations are entities with their own trove of personal and financial data. Depending on the goal of the thief, an indemnified or limited liability company (LLC) may be viable option for targeting debit, credit and other sensitive information.
Methods Used to Steal Identities
Today, the identities of individuals and corporations exist in the digital realm. Some of our information may even be duplicated across multiple platforms—a problem that big data enthusiasts are constantly trying to solve. The information scattered across the endless sea of databases may range from medical and financial to even social, such as one’s political views and marital status.
When targeting online data, identity thieves use the likes of phishing and watering hole attacks to gain access to personal and financial accounts. Some even resort to old fashioned techniques like scouring a person’s hard drive (usually with the help of malware). Given the popularity of social media and sites like Facebook which require accounts to be linked with real identities, identity thieves are in a much better position to take advantage of the information you share freely.
Other methods for stealing identities are not as sophisticated, like sorting through garbage for paper and physical documents. You may assume that no one will find value in these items, but identity thieves know that people often discard paper that contains their personal details.
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
As with any measure to ensure your privacy and protection, vigilance is the best approach. In addition to verifying the accuracy of your personal documents, managed services like LifeLock provide an extra layer of security for protecting your identity. You should also avoid accessing accounts on public computers, as well as install antivirus (AV) apps on your own devices to protect you from spyware and keyloggers which track your data. Finally, you should never disclose your date of birth, social security number or other sensitive data unless you can verify the legitimacy of the requesting party or application.