Identity theft is the intentional use of another person’s identity in order to gain material or financial benefits at the expense of the real person. It happens when someone obtains another person’s sensitive or personal information e.g. bank account details, date of birth, identity card, credit or debit card, home address, office address etc and uses it for fraudulent or illegal purposes.
Identity theft is one of the most common scams used by cybercriminals. Many people have become victims of identity theft on several occasions. It is a serious problem faced by most consumers, resulting in financial losses of billions of dollars each year. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) more than 650,000 complaints of identity theft were recorded in 2019.
COMMON TYPES OF IDENTITY THEFT:
1. Criminal identity theft: A criminal presents another person’s information to the police for fraudulent purpose.
2. Child identity theft: A criminal uses a child’s identity for personal or government benefits.
3. Credit or debit card fraud: A fraudster uses another person’s credit or debit card to make unauthorized transaction.
4. Employment identity theft: A criminal uses the personal information of an unsuspecting victim to apply for job.
5. Synthetic identity theft: A criminal combines real and fake information of an unsuspecting victim and uses it to create a new identity.
6. Medical identity theft: Someone steals or uses another person’s identity to obtain medical services.
7. New account take over: A fraudster steals the personal information of an unsuspecting victim and uses it to create a new account.
8. Tax identity theft: A criminal steals another person’s personal information and uses it to file a tax return before the real owner files it.
HOW DOES IDENTITY THEFT HAPPEN?
1. Exposing personal or sensitive information to cyber attacks or identity thieves. e.g. when internet users do not log out their email or social media accounts.
2. Lost of handbag or wallet containing personal or sensitive information. e.g. credit card, birth certificate, driver’s license etc.
3. Using weak password which are easy to guess e.g. 123456, 654321, abcdef, name or surname, mother’s name, date of birth etc.
4. Using public WiFi to check emails or social media accounts creates loopholes for identity thieves.
5. When personal or sensitive information is shared through phone conversation in the presence of identity thieves.
6. Some desperate identity thieves search through trash cans or recycling bins to look for personal and sensitive information.
7. Cybercriminals may send emails or text messages, posing as a trusted individual, company or organisation in order to obtain personal or sensitive information from unsuspecting victims.
8. Some identity thieves stand at ATM terminals or banking hall to look over the shoulder of an unsuspecting victim in order to see their PIN, username, password etc.
9. Many users of ATM terminals drop the receipts of their transaction carelessly on the floor while others throw them away unknown to them that fraudsters later pick them up and use the information to steal their identities.
10. Many unsuspecting victims ignorantly give their personal and sensitive information to cybercriminals through fake websites created by the cybercriminals purposely for stealing the identities of unsuspecting victims.
11. When people make photocopy of their sensitive documents e.g. National identity card, driver’s license, voter ID card etc at cyber cafe or business center and some copies of the documents are not clear, they leave the unclear copies at the cyber cafe or business center. Cybercriminals may later get their information through the cyber cafe or business center.
HOW TO AVOID IDENTITY THEFT:
1. Always log out your email account, social media account or other online accounts.
2. Don’t keep your wallet, handbag or sensitive information in your car when you are not inside the car.
3. Use strong passwords for all your online accounts. Use at least 14 characters including numbers, letters and special characters.
4. Avoid using public WiFi to check your email, social media and other online accounts.
5. Never share personal or sensitive information through phone conversation.
6. Destroy all documents that contain personal or sensitive information before throwing them away.
7. Before you respond to any email, make sure you do a thorough investigation about the sender.
8. Be vigilant any time you visit the ATM terminal or bank to do any transaction. Make sure no one is looking at what you are doing.
9. When you do any transaction at ATM terminal, make sure you don’t drop your transaction receipt on the floor or throw it away.
10. Before you visit any website or do any online shopping, make sure you do a thorough investigation on the website. Watch out for “HTTPS” at the beginning of the URL. The “s” indicates that the site is secured.
11. Install anti-virus software and other security softwares on your device and keep them updated.
12. Always use personal identification number (PIN) on your device to prevent unauthorized access.
13. Educate yourself about safety tips to avoid identity theft and other common scams.
CEO Onadipe Technologies,
Founder, Internet Safety Magazine.