Jan 15, 2011

Identity Theft

  When you think of theft, you usually think of someone stealing your possessions. Modern thieves have gone high-tech and they can take your money, use your credit cards, and ruin your reputation by stealing your identity. Identity theft can happen to anyone because all of our personal information is scattered in a lot of places - from online shopping websites and corporate databases to wallets and scraps of paper. Identity theft, or identity fraud, occurs when someone steals information that defines your personal identity-such as your name, Social Security number, bank account numbers, and credit card numbers-to reap the benefits of posing as you. These benefits can be financial, such as, access to your accounts and credit cards, or they can be reputational in that thieves can use your identity to get a job or commit a crime.

Using your personal details, a thief can open a credit card account and run up charges, create counterfeit checks using your account number, or even obtain an official government document, such as a driver’s license, in your name. When this happens, you not only lose money, you also face losing the ability to take out a loan, receive medical benefits, or get a job due to bad credit and a damaged reputation. In severe cases, you could even get thrown in jail for mistaken identity. Most often, it takes a long time for victims to realize that their identities have been stolen, and by the time they become aware of the fraud the thief is long gone. This explains why it’s so easy for thieves to commit identity theft and why it’s so hard for law enforcement to catch them.

Important Identity Theft Facts
  • Javelin’s Identity Fraud Report for 2010 found that 11.1 million adults in the U.S. were victims of identity fraud
  • Americans incurred $54 billion in loss from identity theft in 2008
  • The average fraud amount per victim was close to $5,000
  • Victims who found out about their identity theft more than six months after it happened incurred costs 4x higher than the average
  • From 2005 to 2009, there have been more than 500 million consumers whose personal and financial data had been exposed.
  • Victims spend an average of 58 hours repairing the damage done to existing accounts and an average of 165 hours repairing damage done by the creation of new, fraudulent accounts.

Types of Identity Theft

Let’s take a look at the different kinds of identity theft so you can gain a better understanding of what you need to do to protect you and your family. 

Financial Identity Theft: Financial identity theft involves using stolen personal information to get access to your money or credit. This is the most common type of identity theft because it is lucrative and often hard to trace.

 Criminal/Impersonation Identity Theft: Criminal identity theft, or criminal impersonation, is when a thief takes over your identity and assumes it as their own. The thief could give your driver’s license, date of birth, or Social Security number to law enforcement officers during an investigation or upon arrest. Alternatively, the imposter could present a counterfeit license containing your data.

Medical Identity Theft: Medical identity theft occurs when someone steals your medical insurance information to receive benefits such as treatments and/or prescriptions in your name. This is one of the fastest growing forms of identity theft because the benefits could potentially add up to hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of medical claims and could dramatically improve the thief’s well-being. Believe it or not, the street value of stolen medical identities ($50 to $60) is much higher than the street value for Social Security numbers ($1).

Child Identity Theft: There is a growing trend among identity thieves to steal the identities of children, even infants, since a child’s records represent a clean slate for the criminal and it usually takes years before the theft is discovered. A child’s stolen Social Security number could be used to obtain a driver’s license or open credit accounts. Often, the first time victims discover that their identity was stolen is when they engage in their first financial transaction and try to establish credit by, for example, purchasing a cell phone or buying a car.

How Thieves Steal Your Identity
One out of four Americans is expected to become a victim of identity theft. With that in mind, it’s worth knowing how thieves can steal your identity. Unfortunately, they have numerous tricks up their sleeves—from old-fashioned methods such as stealing your wallet and raiding your mailbox, to high-tech methods such as data breaches and email scams.Let’s review some of the most common ways crooks can steal your sensitive information so that you can take preventative measures.

Phishing: Phishing scams are spam emails sent by cybercriminals that pretend to be from a legitimate person or organization with the intent of tricking you into revealing personal information. For instance, a cybercriminal may send an email that looks like it originates from your bank asking you to “confirm” account information by clicking on a link that takes you to a fake website and asks you to type in your bank account user name and password. Phishing is one of the most common types of cybercrime, and thieves are constantly updating and changing their scams in hopes of fooling you.
A Sample Phishing mail.

 Click here to know how to recognize phishing e-mails or links...
   Pharming: In a pharming attempt, a hacker installs malicious code on your personal computer to direct you to fake websites without your knowledge. You could be directed to a fraudulent shopping site where you might enter your payment information without knowing that the site is not legitimate.

Spim: Spim is spam sent via instant messaging (IM). The IMs could include spyware, keyloggers, viruses, and links to phishing sites.

Spyware: This is software that a hacker surreptitiously installs on your computer to collect personal information. It can also be used to direct you to fake websites, change your settings, or take control of your computer in other ways.

Keyloggers: A keylogger is a form of spyware that records keystrokes as you type. The information you type is then saved to a file that the hacker can access. If you are surfing the web and visiting banking and e-commerce sites, a keylogger can potentially record your account and password information, which the hacker could then use to get access to your credit card or banking accounts and even steal your identity.

Trojan horse: A Trojan horse is a malicious program that appears to be harmless. If you unwittingly download a Trojan horse from the web, it could allow the hacker remote access to your machine from anywhere in the world, which gives them the ability to access files on your computer and even watch your screen activity.

Social networking sites: With so much popularity surrounding social networking sites, it’s sometimes easy to forget that people outside your circle of friends can often access the information you post about yourself. By providing details such as your name, date of birth, contact details, and employer, thieves can start to piece together the information they need to steal your identity.

Wardriving: Thieves also try to steal your personal information using a technique called wardriving, where they drive around looking for unsecured wireless connections (networks). If your home wireless connection is not secured, hackers can access data on all the computers you have connected to your wireless router, as well as see information you type into your banking and credit card sites.

How You Can Protect Yourself

Common sense: Keep personal data private. When a person, website, or email asks for your personal information, ask yourself if it is standard practice for such information to be requested. Common sense will tell you that your bank would never send you an email asking you to confirm your account number and Social Security number or that it is not normal for a potential employer to ask for proof of medical insurance.

Online protection: When you are surfing the web, use a comprehensive security suite, such as McAfee® Total Protection™ software, which not only protects you against viruses, spyware, and other emerging threats, but also provides safe search technology to help you steer clear of fake websites that try to collect your information.
In addition, make sure you use a firewall to block unauthorized access to your computer or network.

Use strong passwords: Passwords should be at least 10 characters long and should consist of a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. Also, consider changing your passwords periodically to reduce the likelihood that thieves can appropriate them and misuse them. Do not share passwords with anyone—not even with friends and family.

Practice safe surfing on public hotspots: If you are using a public computer or accessing the Internet from a public hotspot or an unsecured wireless connection, do not log in to banking and credit card sites. Do your surfing at home on a secure network.
Secure your wireless network: To prevent wardriving, enable the firewall on your router and change the administrator’s password. Most routers come with a default user name and password, allowing you to set up and configure the router, but hackers are often familiar with these defaults. You may also want to change the default identifier on your router that is used to announce its presence to devices in the immediate area and permit access only from computers or devices you designate. Check your router’s user manual to find out how to change these default settings.


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