This is a type of fraud that entails use of another persons’ personal information to take the identity of that person in order to gain monetary and non-monetary benefits. The term identity theft is a misnomer as it is inherently impossible for a person to steal the identity but can use it. As a result of the suffering and pain inflicted to the owner of that information, several laws have been put in place thus identity theft is considered to be a criminal activity.
In United States, the federal government and several states have developed and passed laws which prohibit identity theft thus any person who uses intentionally the Social Security number which belongs to another person in order to establish another new identity or defraud the government is considered to have broken the law (Hayward 1). In most cases the term identity theft is usually used interchangeably with identity fraud despite the fact that they are different but somehow related as identity fraud is as a consequence of identity theft.
Thus the occurrence of identity fraud depends on the occurrence of identity theft. However, an individual can steal another persons information thus identity theft without committing identity fraud. Data breaches are examples of identity theft without committing identity fraud as there is normally negligible solid evidence linking it with identity fraud. Identity theft can be divided into five categories depending on the benefit or the entity involved and this include; commercial, criminal, financial, identity cloning and medical identity theft.
Business identity theft occurs when a person or business uses another business’ name in order to get credit from the financial institutions. Criminal identity theft involves a person apprehended for committing a certain crime posing to be another person. The financial identity theft entails obtaining goods and services using another person’s identity while the medical type of identity theft involves obtaining medical drugs or health care. Another category of identity theft is identity cloning which entail situations whereby a person uses another person’s identity in everyday life.
Computer information theft This is a type of criminal activity which has been causing mayhem for a long time as the computer technology advances. With advancement in the computer technology the tactics used for committing information theft also undergo improvements. There are several individuals who are involved in this type of computer crime and this mainly includes disgruntled employees, journalist and political activists, hackers and phishers, and information brokers. Disgruntled employees commit information theft by copying commercially sensitive documents electronically or as hard copies.
Political activists and journalists commit this crime by stealing and releasing damaging information concerning a particular organization to the public. To hackers and phishers information theft involves obtaining details of the credit card, passwords, among others then trading that information on the websites. Information brokering involves purchasing and gathering information using several techniques then selling that information to the highest bidder. Hackers are the prominent individuals who are primarily involved in committing computer information theft as they have been improving their tactics day by day as technology advanced.
There are several methods which can be used to obtain personal information from the computers and these include phishing, social networking, data breach, hacking, Trojan horses among others. a) Social networking The social networks provide an easy and faster way to get in touch with friends and even to form new friendship through the network. Social network sites allow individuals to place personal information which is inclusive of date of birth, passwords, photos among other information pieces which are considered to be personal.
Despite the fact that such personal information can be made confidential in the social networks as the sites allow individuals to privatize or limit their personal information to specific individuals in the network, there is a higher risk of the information getting into the wrong hands. The social networks are vulnerable as individuals can gain access to the social groups by registering and posting their fake information as way of looking for other individuals to join their group.
As a result of the direct communication link provided by social networking sites individuals can easily entice people on the network to provide their personal information thus use it for their own personal gains. The social network is composed of millions of people who are registered thus using the network as way of communicating with their colleagues thereby implying that the same number of people’s identities is at risk. Furthermore, some social networks encourage provision of personal information in the social sites as they are design to ask individuals to enter certain information every time they log in.
For instance, social sites such as Facebook prompt individuals to enter their date of birth each time they log in if they never do so. In accordance with the PC World reports a third of individuals using social networking sites have a minimum of three vitally important information types which can be used by criminal for committing identity theft (Siciliano). These information may include name, date of birth, address, children names, maiden names of their mothers and phone numbers which can enable criminals fit the pieces together thus obtain the identity of an individual.
Despite the fact that majority of the social networks are designed to contain privacy settings, many people never care to use and manage it thus personal information is shared to the world. The social networks provide an easy way for criminals to obtain personal information without much effort as the sites does almost everything thereby providing them with adequate information to form either new identity to use the same identity for their criminal activities. b) Hacking Hacking involves actions associated with individuals breaking into the computer system by gaining access to the controls.
There are many attitudes of the hacker which are associated with computer security. Some hackers break into the computer security for non-malicious reasons as they enjoy breaking into the computers as way of learning thus gaining deeper understanding of the computer system. However, the most common hacker is the one who breaks into the computer for malicious purposes which is inclusive of credit card fraud, vandalism, identity theft among others. This type of hackers uses computer technology which may include computer system, network or the phone system in order to break into the computer system of a particular individual.
In performing most of the hacking functions some hackers may use computer worms and viruses. Computer worms are normally programs with self replicating capability as it copies itself into the documents contained in the computer system. Worms also have the capability of propagating without the intervention from users through the computer networks, and in addition to that they do not require existing programs for provision of attachments support. Computer viruses have similar characteristics of self replicating as biological viruses as they spread their effects by inserting copies of themselves into documents or other executable programs.
In performing their intended functions computer viruses require existing programs for attachment support. Through the information obtained from the computer system of the user the hacker can cause many damages to that person. After breaking into the computer system, the hacker may have access to all data contained in the system which is inclusive of personal information. The information stolen from the computer system can thus be used without the knowledge of the user in committing several types of identity theft. c) Trojan horses
These are computer programs containing malicious codes which are designed in such a way that they get control and perform damages in accordance with its choice. These programs appear to the users as useful as they can perform desirable functions but in actual sense they facilitate unauthorized access to the computer system. The Trojan horses are normally not self replicating as worms and viruses are thus making them to be easily accepted by users as they appear useful to them. However, for Trojan to fulfill their purposes hackers’ services are a requirement.
Hackers do not have to distribute the Trojan horse but can use the Trojan horse qualities to access personal information contained in computer systems. Trojan horse is normally designed in such a way that they can allow hackers to remotely access the target computer system. After installation of Trojan horse in the computer system hackers can easily access the computer thus perform their criminal operations. However, the operations performed by the hacker in the computer system are dependent on the user privileges on that particular system and also the design of the Trojan horse.
If the user privileges are broad thereby allowing numerous operations to be performed by unauthorized persons, the hacker can obtain personal information and other data which may be found beneficial in obtaining the identity of the user of that particular computer. Installation of Trojan horse is normally accomplished through software downloads whereby the Trojan horse is part of the software application downloaded. File sharing networks provide a good environment for such downloads to occur in which the software application is designed to include the Trojan horse in its programming code.
Websites composed of executable content may also contain Trojan horse code. In such websites the Trojan horse most commonly contained is in the form of an ActiveX control. Exploitation of software application can also be conducted in such a way that it allows Trojan horses to be installed in the computer system. Software application exploitation may include flaws in the messaging client, web browsers and media players and are normally done by hackers aimed at installing the Trojan in order to gain access to the computer system.
Hackers can also directly communicate with the users thus entice or persuade the users to install the Trojan horse into their computer systems. Furthermore, Trojan horse can also get into the computer system through email attachments sent to the users. d) Phishing This is the latest tool in identity theft which has received increasingly security scrutiny and hype. It entails impersonation of a trusted individual or company in the electronic communication aimed at enticing the other person to reveal personal information (Tipton & Krause 560).
Phishing is considered a criminal activity whose aim is to acquire sensitive information inclusive of credit card details, usernames and passwords. It entails use of communications purporting to come from auction sites, popular social sites, and online payment processors to entice individuals. Phishing is primarily carried out using e-mail and other instant messaging tools, which in most cases direct users to a fake website which is similar in appearance and design to the genuine one. Detecting fake websites requires tremendous skills despite the use of server authentication as a security measure for protecting information.
As a result of the poor usability of the web security technologies, there have been a growing number of reported phishing incidences. In most cases email phishing contain false statements which are intended to alarm the recipient. The sender may provide an impression to the recipients that their credit card or bank accounts are at a high risk of being compromised. There are also phishing claims that may involve false statements such as the recipient’s credit card is being used by another person or it has declined, all intended to get personal information from the recipient.
Information obtained from the computer can be utilized in the different types of identity theft as computer contains detailed personal information. Some people put vital and sensitive information in the computer which would damage their lives if it gets into the hands of the wrong people. Financial Identity theft This involves obtaining identity tokens and then using it to access the funds through delivery systems which may include telephone banking, automated teller machines, and retail cashiers among others.
Since some individuals store personal information in their computers or computing networks, by stealing or accessing the computer such details will be revealed thus become public. Some people particularly new account holders store their passwords, card numbers and other personal data for identification in their computers in order to access them in circumstances requiring reminding. As a result of putting such information in the computer the perpetrators who include hackers can easily gain access to the personal information stored in the computer.
On accessing such information the criminal might pretend to be the existing holder of that account thus gain access to all the funds in that bank account. With such information in the hands of the criminal taking over that account is not a difficult task as in extreme cases the criminal can reroute the banking statements to another different address thus get timely information concerning the transactions of that account. Moreover, the criminal can use the information obtained from another person’s computer system to establish a new account.
Since the computer may contain personal financial information such information will be useful to individuals who have a bad credit card history thus cannot access loans from financial institutions. According to policies of most financial institutions credit card history is useful as it portrays the character of a person with regards to expenses or how they normally spend their finances. The criminal will therefore impersonate the legitimate owner of that information thus obtain loan for that financial institution or any other lending institution.
The criminal will provide the institution with accurate information concerning name, date of birth, personal address among other personal information required in order to obtain a loan. Through provision of accurate information catching the criminal is not an easy task and especially if the transaction is conducted online or through the telephone thus not requiring the original government identity card. Identity concealment and cloning In this case the criminal can steal personal information stored in the computer and use it for impersonation purposes aimed at concealing the criminal’s identity from the law enforcement authority.
As a consequence of some people storing personal information in their computers or sharing it in the computer networks criminals can use their identities without them knowing as way of avoiding arrest for crimes committed. The information might also be useful to individuals who are working illegally in foreign nations. Through stealing of another person’s information such individuals can continue working in the foreign nations without the authority and the legitimate owner of the identity having a clue.
Furthermore, people hiding from creditors since they have no money for repaying their loans or do not want to repay their loan may also find that information useful to them. Not paying the loans obtained from financial institutions makes one susceptible to arrest thus imprisonment in avoiding such situations some find identity theft as the way out. Hence, such individuals will therefore steal personal information and use it to conceal their real identity without the knowledge of the legitimate identity owner.
The chance of the legitimate identity owner discovering that personal information was stolen and used by another person are negligible. Synthetic identity theft The criminal can use the information obtained from another person’s computer and in collaboration with real identity of the criminal a new identity will be created for use during criminal activities. The criminal can also use information obtained from several individuals to form a fake identity contain completely different information (McFadden 1).
The criminal can thus use personal information such as the Social security number without the owner knowing and in addition to that the owner may never find out about it as they are no credit reports mailed to the legitimate owner. Credit reports will not contain the transactions conducted using for example the account number as other details do not match with the legitimate account details. For one to receive credit reports one of the requirements is that all the account details have to match to ensure credibility if they do not match it might become a different account.
Tracking this type of identity theft is normally a very difficult task as there are no visible clues shown directly in the credit report however they might appear in the credit bureau as another completely new file. In rare cases it might appear on the credit reports of the legitimate account number holder as a sub-file thus not easily noted. Synthetic identity theft mainly harms the creditors as they provide credit to the criminals thereby leading to loss of funds.
Despite that fact, the legitimate account holder may also be affected adversely as a result of the negative information contained in the sub-file impacting their credit. This negative information in the sub-file might affect negatively the ability of an individual obtaining credit as they might surface as the creditor is scrutinizing all the files associated with a particular consumer prior to provision of credit. This might therefore lead to an individual losing the good history of credit card thus reducing the chances of obtaining credit or loan from the financial institutions.
Medical identity theft As a result of stealing information stored in computers, these type of identity theft can occur as the criminal can use information such as medical insurance to obtain medical goods and services without the legitimate owner’s knowledge. Furthermore, the information obtained can be used by the criminal to make false claims thus obtain medical goods and services. Despite the fact that this type of identity theft might have a chance of being noticed by the real identity owner, chances of arresting the criminal are negligible.
In addition to that the criminal can still use the identity to obtain more goods and services which may not necessarily be medical if the real identity owner does not take the necessary steps in preventing such incidences from happening. Furthermore in cases where the criminal uses medical information to obtain little amounts of goods and services which are cheap noticing such incidences might be difficult and especially since it may not be frequent. In conclusion, identity theft and computer information theft can cause numerous financial damages to individuals as most of their effects are related to finances.
Criminals break into computers to steal information mainly for monetary reasons. As a result of identity theft being secret as the law enforcement authority and the legitimate identity owner will have no clues concerning the fake identity or the real identity being used by the criminal, this type of criminal activity has become the preference choice for criminals. Identity theft and information theft have provided criminals with ways of avoiding being apprehended by the law authority and in addition to that they are causing loss of hefty financial assets to many individuals.