Identity theft is the deliberate assumption of another person's identity, usually to gain access to their credit or frame them for some crime. Less commonly, it is to enable illegal immigration, terrorism, espionage or changing identity permanently. It may also be a means of blackmail, especially if medical privacy or political privacy has been breached, and revealing the activities undertaken by the thief under the name of the victim would have serious consequences like loss of job or marriage.

Identity theft is usually the result of serious breaches of privacy. Except for the simplest credit cases, it is usually not possible without breakdowns in:

  • customer privacy, in which case the consequences may be limited to fraud on one corporation, typically the one that leaked the data in the first place, e.g. account numbers.
  • consumer privacy, more serious, where credit card numbers or other generally-useful identity is stolen and used much more widely.
  • medical privacy enabling one to alter biometrics stored on the victim, and thus very effectively impersonate them even through secure points.
  • client confidentiality and political privacy, making it easy to effectively impersonate someone, by using confidential information that an ordinary impersonator would not have access to.

Table of contents
1 Consequences of identity theft
2 Precautions against it
3 External link

Consequences of identity theft

It is said that "identity theft is the fastest growing offence in North America". It is difficult to quantify the extent of identity theft. One reason for this is that identity theft is often a precursor to other crimes, such as fraud and theft. Records of these crimes may be filed under the "strongest" crime, leaving the identity theft to get lost in the mix.

One reason for the prevalence of identity theft is that credit card companies in the United States have an interest in not publicizing cases of identity theft and have a disincentive for making identity and credit information secure. It is estimated that credit card companies in the United States lose up to $5 billion dollars (US) a year and they accept that as a "cost of doing business", since making credit information secure would make using credit somewhat less convenient and might discourage people from using it.

Precautions against it

To guard against identity theft:

  • Limit your credit card use. Keep the account information in a safe place that lets you immediately cancel all of them if your wallet is lost or stolen.
  • Check your accounts each week online or at an ABM. You can catch unusual activity more quickly than if you wait for monthly statements.
  • Shred credit-card receipts, pre-screened credit-card offers and other such documents, as they contain private information.
  • Mail letters from the post office. Install a lock on home mailboxes.
  • Don't order checks preprinted with your driver's license or SIN number. If you can keep your address off them, do so.
  • Don't carry your social security card. Don't give out the number unless it is absolutely necessary and legally required (employers, landlords etc.). In states where your drivers license number is your social security number, be equally careful about who sees your license.
  • Don't give out personal information to telemarketers or others who initiated the call to you. Never speak to a collection agency about anything regarding anyone else - and make clear to others that you expect the same protection. Get a phone number to call marketers back if it is an offer you'd like to pursue. Get a company name and web URL, and check with the Better Business Bureau.
  • When shopping online, make sure the company is reputable and displays an approved security symbol. Also, make sure you log out of the site when finished.
  • Request your own credit report each year and check the reports for inaccuracies. If you've been the target of identity fraud, check the data every six months. If you are a target, keep copies of police reports and records of who you talked to and when, so that you can back up the claim of fraud with skeptical lenders.

External link