Did you know that identify theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States and Canada?
So should we be worried?
Yes, we should, because the victim of identity theft can suffer harmful consequences if he or she is held accountable for the actions of the thief.
So what is identity theft?
Identity theft is a form of fraud, in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that persons identity. In other words, it is about the impersonation of somebody.
There are many reasons why someone would commit identity theft:
- Financial identity theft, which is using anothers identity to obtain credit, goods and services.
- Criminal identity theft, when apprehended for a crime posing as another person to avoid a criminal record in their real name.
- Identity cloning by using anothers information to assume his or her identity in daily life.
- Medical identity theft by using anothers identity to obtain medical care or drugs.
- Identity theft may also be used to facilitate or fund other crimes such as illegal immigration.
How does it happen?
To identity thieves, everyone is reduced to information, such as national insurance numbers, credit card details, bank account details, addresses and dates of birth. The more information identity thieves can get about an individual, the more there is the opportunity to impersonate that individual.
Such impersonation ranges from highly organised crime rings to individuals who see the benefits of impersonating someone else, perhaps of a person who lives their life very close to them.
Dont just assume that identity theft is all about the high-tech world of computer hackers. Old fashioned pick-pocketing and street theft recently saw such a high profile person as Ben Bernanke, the U.S. Federal Reserve Board chairman, become one of hundreds of victims of an elaborate identity fraud ring that stole more than $1.2 million from unsuspecting consumers.
So what can we do as individuals do to protect ourselves?
- Make sure that you shred all personal information rather than throw it in the trash.
- Ensure that redundant information technology (IT) equipment you may throw onto a dump site is sanitised by removing all personal information from , personal computers, servers, mobile phones, USB memory sticks, hard drives and other similar items. Ensure that you have the most up-to-date anti-virus software and firewalls on your personal computers to prevent malware such as key logging software being loaded onto your computer without your knowledge.
- Only respond to e-mails, SMS text messages, phone calls or other forms of communication from trusted organisations. Without such caution, you may be duped into disclosing personal information or login credentials. Remember: A bank will never ask for your log in and password.
- Take extreme care with social network sites, such as Facebook, not to disclose sufficient about yourself that your personal information could be guessed.
- Take care not to be overlooked when using IT equipment located in public places, allowing observers to see you typing in login credentials, credit or calling card numbers, etc.
- If you have a business, then ensure that you screen your employees, particularly if in the normal course of their business they have access to the personal information of your customers.
Paul Coleman, vice president of compliance at International Banking Group, has more than 40 years experience in the banking industry. He is a professionally qualified expert in Operational and Business Risk, Internal Audit, Anti Money Laundering and Regulatory Compliance.