Identity theft has emerged as one of the biggest crimes of the new millennium. It is an enemy that won’t strike you from the front. Rather, it will stab you from the back when you are least expecting. It can bring you from riches to rags within minutes. According to Venkat Krishnapur, vice-president of Engineering and Managing Director, McAfee India, identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes of this century. Indians should worry more because, according to the McAfee India official, the country has been a soft target for organized cybercrime and identity theft.
"It has become a common occurrence (in India) owing to human negligence, improper disposal of records, misconfigured databases and other unintended security issues," Krishnapur told FE Online.
As India celebrates the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi – the man who fought for Independence against the tyranny of British Raj through Satyagraha, non-cooperation and non-violent means, today, it is probably the best day for you to take inspiration and start a movement against identity theft. All you need to do is practice some instructions mentioned below. But before that, it is important to understand the meaning of identity theft.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is also known as identity fraud. Krishnapur defines it simply as "the process by which your personal digital credentials that uniquely identify you, such as user id and password, are compromised." He warns this could lead to situations where a scammer impersonates you to access your finances, credit, medical care, and other valuable assets, including your personal information.
Fraudsters replicate victim’s identity by stealing and using his/her personal information such as name, contact number, driver’s license or Aadhar card number. "Once they have this information, identity thieves can wreak havoc on your life. They can steal from your bank account, impersonate you to get a job, pose as the beneficiary of medical benefits or even provide false identification to the police and create a criminal record in your name," he warned.
Tactics deployed by fraudsters for identity theft
According to Krishnapur, "Stealing one's identity is, unfortunately, simple and usually happens when its least expected." Fraudsters deploy several tactics to steal your personal information and impersonate you. The McAfee expert said some of the common tactics used by fraudsters include:
- Phishing: This has been traditionally used to trick people into revealing their information to identity thieves. They coax users into disclosing personal information by masquerading as genuine financial entities or an associate the recipient trusts or by using other forms of social engineering.
- Vishing: An even simpler form of crime that works the same way is 'voice phishing' or 'vishing'. This makes use of automated scripts and are conducted via voice email, VoIP (voice over IP), or over the telephone. The criminal expresses a sense of urgency, intentionally creating conditions designed to con unsuspecting victims into willingly handing over valuable details, such as full names, addresses, phone numbers, and credit card numbers.
- SMiShing: Another popular scheme is SMiShing, wherein the fraudster sends spam text messages posing as a financial institution or other legitimate entities. The text message poses a sense of urgency, having users believe they will suffer financial losses or other implications if there is no response, thereby luring you to reveal personal information.
- Spyware: While users have grown to be more informed about traditional email-based phishing scams, fraudsters have started using more complex techniques. They deploy spyware, to steal personal or organizational information. Spyware is usually disguised as a popup advertisement, targeting users based on their habits and search history, while also recording the keystrokes, which could read their passwords and credit card information.
How to fight against Identity Theft, protect identity online
Krishnapur suggests some steps you should take immediately to fight against identity theft as its consequences can be devastating and long-lasting. He said protecting oneself begins with an understanding of what identity theft is, and being prepared by walling personal data from thieves. Some of the easy but essential steps that individuals can take are:
Share information judiciously – Be careful while sharing personal information online. Just because a website is asking for your information, doesn't mean it's necessary to provide it. Also, limit the amount of information you share on social media. Everyone doesn't need to know the year you were born
- Learn to spot spam and scams – Although some phishing scams are easy to identify, other phishing attempts can appear legitimate. Exercise caution when clicking on links and opening email attachments. If the link/attachment is from someone you don't recognize, don't open it
- Use complex, unique passwords and change them regularly – Weak passwords are an identity thief's dream – especially if you use the same password for all your accounts. To stop thieves from accessing your data, mix up your passwords. Avoid including your name in any password and change it anytime you suspect an account is compromised
- Keep an eye on your bank and credit card statements – Look for questionable activity and ensure you identify every transaction, no matter how small
- Install security software – Make sure all your devices have comprehensive security software like McAfee LiveSafe, that protects all your devices
- Beware of OFFLINE Identity Theft: According to Krishnapur, contrary to traditional belief that identity theft can only happen online, there has been an increase in instances where criminals have used offline techniques to replicate one's identity. He advises to destroy any physical private records and statements that include any personal and/or financial data. "Cross shredding of all-important documents like credit card statements, offers, receipts, can prevent scammers from obtaining personal information and creating fake accounts. While these efforts may not eliminate the threat of identity theft entirely, they can do a lot to limit your exposure to help you stay safe," he said.