Identity Theft: Definition, Consequences, Prevention

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Identity theft is becoming a very rampant problem in the modern world. Advances in technology are behind the increase in the number of identity theft incidents. The aim of this paper is to explore the issues surrounding identity theft in order to recommend the ways of stopping the crime.

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Defining identity theft requires a close analysis of the two words that describe the crime. Identity refers to the totality of a person in regard to his/her unique identifiers. The identity of an individual includes his/her physical attributes such as height, weight, eye color, and hair color (Wheeler, 2011). These attributes may also include dental arrangement, fingerprints, and DNA. Apart from physical attributes, a person’s identity also includes social and psychological makeup, in particular an introvert or an extrovert character. He/she can also be aggressive or laid-back, among other traits. Therefore, a person’s identity covers all the attributes that mark this person as a distinct individual. Theft, on the other hand, is a crime that involves taking someone’s property without his or her knowledge and consent, and usually with no intention of returning it to the original owner (Finklea, 2010). Identity theft describes the act of taking certain attributes that constitute the individuality of a person, and using those attributes to achieve criminal ends, without the knowledge or permission of the victim.

It is relatively easy to steal identities in today’s world because of technological advancements. One of the most common forms of identity theft is online identity theft. Many people have online accounts on websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google. They use these accounts as extensions of their professional and social lives (Wheeler, 2011). Therefore, identity thieves can target someone in order to use their online identity to achieve criminal goals. For instance, fraudsters can set up an account in one of the social media sites using data obtained from a specific individual in order to pose as that person. The thieves then use the victim’s identity to defraud other people.

The second way in which online identity thieves execute their schemes is by hacking into online systems with the purpose to gain access to people’s personal information for their criminal activities (Hoffman & Tracy, 2010). The systems that they hack vary but they usually involve gaining unauthorized access to databases. For example, identity thieves can hack into the database of a bank to extract information relating to a client’s accounts (Finklea, 2010). These criminals then use the obtained information to plan and execute criminal activities.

Cases of identity theft are rare without the use of the internet. When these occur, they take the form of passport forgery or credit card fraud (Cardoso, 2009). In these situations, thieves use stolen documents to create a false profile of an individual. Armed with such documents, they can pose as the person whose identity they have stolen in order to access privileges not due to them.

The consequences of identity theft can vary depending on the nature of the theft. The most common consequence for victims is financial ruin (Hoffman & Tracy, 2010). When identity thieves take control of a victim’s bank account or a credit card, the thieves can use up all the funds. These situations usually leave the victim in a very difficult financial position. In the cases involving loss of credit cards, identity thieves can damage the victim’s credit ratings (Wheeler, 2011). This can affect the creditworthiness of the victim for a number of years.

The second consequence of identity theft is reputational loss (Cardoso, 2009). An identity thief can commit criminal offenses using the identity of their victim. If the victim does not realize someone else is using his/her identity, he can end up in jail because of activities associated with him/her. In some cases, such theft can damage relationships between the victim and other people. For instance, if an identity thief posing as the victim cons someone, the person who is conned will not want anything to do with the victim.

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The third consequence of identity theft is that it leaves the victim feeling vulnerable and it erodes his/her trust in institutions. This state of mental siege affects the quality of the victim’s life.

Prevention of identity theft requires a combination of measures at the individual level, at the organizational level, and at the state level. At the individual level, it is important to observe basic rules regarding the use of technological tools prone to attacks from identity thieves. This means that it is important to keep and monitor the use of personal identification documents such as passports as well as credit and debit cards. In addition, there is a need to observe personal safety rules regarding privacy when using the internet.

At the institutional level, every organization owes it to their clients to keep their information safe from unauthorized access. This means that organizations that handle large volumes of personal data from clients should ensure that the data is as secure as possible. Such organizations as banks and those that issue personal identification documents need to use effective encryption techniques to keep data in their custody as safe as possible. In addition, it is important to maintain rules and regulations regarding access to client information.

Governments also have a big role to play in preventing and managing identity thefts. The first tool for this is legislation. The government must enact laws that can help deal with identity theft. Good laws are necessary to deter people from involvement in identity theft. Secondly, the government is the only agency that has the resources to track the use of false identities. The third intervention from the government is making tamper-proof identification documents such as passports to reduce the chances of successful forgery.

Recommendations

The future of identity theft will depend on IT. Advances in internet-based services will increase the ease of carrying out identity theft because of the possibility of committing the fraud from any location on earth (Finklea, 2010). Therefore, identity theft prevention efforts must focus on online identity theft. Secondly, identity theft is becoming an international crime and there is the need for law enforcement agencies to cooperate across the borders to deter identity thieves (Finklea, 2010). Moreover, it is necessary for countries to develop common conventions in regard to this crime. This will unite the international community against identity theft and will make it more difficult to carry out such activities from foreign countries. Finally, there is the need to develop technologies that can allow internet users to utilize an online passport that allows them to access different sites without logging in each time. If internet users can have a single account to access all their online services, then it will reduce the opportunities available for identity thieves to carry out the crime.

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References

Cardoso, G. (2009). From Mass Communication to Networked Communication: Thoughts 2.0. Lisbon, Portugal: Lisbon Internet and Networks.

Finklea, K.M. (2010). Identity Theft: Trends and Issues. Washington, DC: DIANE Publishing.

Hoffman, S.K., & Tracy, M.G. (2010). Identity Theft: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Wheeler, E. (2011). Security Risk Management: Building an Information Security Risk Management Program from the Ground Up. New York, NY: Elselvier.

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