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Identity Theft: A Modern Crime

Identity thieves make a lot of money a typical headline that we read almost every day. What is the true picture? It’s not where an individual steals an identity but the same individual using identity as a means to steal money. It is a faceless crime that leaves the victim financially and emotionally vulnerable. it is a crime that can happen to anyone and leaves the lives of it's victim in shambles. The threat of identity theft is increasingly felt all over the world and crime rate is an all time high. A recent study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2003 suggested that about 9.3 million adults were victims of identity theft in any form all over the world.

According to Oxford Dictionary, identity theft is defined as using somebody else’s name and personal information in order to obtain credit cards and other goods or to take money out of the person’s bank accounts.

Identity theft, a crime of opportunity basically done by impersonating a victim to obtain valuable things such as credit cards, loans and other valuable items in name of the victim than theirs. It occurs when ones personal information is available to the public, or important mails are left unattended or unsupervised.

Identity theft is not a new phenomenon; it has been a part of our society ever since Internet and computers have come into existence.

Nowadays being on social networking cites is a necessity and not being present on these platforms is considered a taboo. It has become a common practice for users to use their true identity but it has also given rise to pseudonym users that use borrowed identity.

What is new is the aspect of virtual identity theft or the theft of identity on the Internet.

When a user does not choose a pseudonym identity but chooses to use the identity of a true person, this becomes identity theft. This can be done by the use of real or fabricated information and sometimes completely fictitious information.

There are various kids of identity thefts. They are mainly Criminal Identity Theft, Identity Cloning, Medical Identity Theft, Financial Identity Theft, Synthetic Identity Theft, Child Identity Theft and Tax Identity Theft.

Criminal Identity Theft
At a point of arrest, when an individual fraudulently identifies himself as police, this amounts to what is known as criminal identity theft.

Identity Cloning
Here the individual impersonates himself asanother individual to in order to conceal his identity from others, this amounts to Identity Cloning.

Medical Identity Theft
When an individual tries to seek medical care under the identity of another person, this amounts to Medical Identity Theft.

Financial Identity Theft
This is one of the most common identity thefts that occur where an individual tries to gain economic gain in someone else’s name.

Synthetic Identity Theft
When identities are completely or partially fabricated to create a completely new identity, this amounts to Synthetic Identity Theft.

Child Identity Theft
When the impostor for his personal gain uses a minor’s identity to obtain a line of credit, obtain a driver’s license, etc., this amounts to Child Identity Theft.

Tax identity theft
When someone gains another persons information and uses that to receive a tax refund, this amounts to Tax Identity Theft.

The main victims of these crimes are: the elderly, college students and children.

The Elders
The elders often fall prey to such crimes since they tend to trust easily without a second thought, generally are more polite and naïve, have more accumulated savings, don’t monitor their finances on a regular basis. Moreover they can be easily tricked into providing pieces of sensitive key information over telephonic conversations or via replies to emails. Because of these traits they are easy victims to these crimes.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted a study where people belonging to different age groups were asked, if they felt that they could easily trust most people. Most of those born between 1946 to 1964, gave the highest percentage of Yes answers.
In 2011, MetLife Mature Market Institute review of research and news conducted a survey which estimated that elderly victims lose at least $2.9 billion annually from frauds.

College Students
College students are very negligent and have a carefree attitude regarding their personal information, which makes them easy targets. They do not take enough precautions to protect their identities. They use the same password for all of their accounts making it quite easy to be hacked. They often leave their credit card information on websites for the sake of convenience, which is one of the major ways that they can be hacked. Sloppiness in discarding papers that contain personal information by merely throwing them in the bin is an invitation to thieves, unknowingly clicking on links that lead them to keystroke logging malware that steal all of the information available on the victim’s device.

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) 31% of victims to identity fraud fall in the age group of 18-29

Children don’t have any credit activity and act as a blank slate for thieves. Criminals use children’s information to open new lines of credit. They are very easy targets as their credit and accounts are not monitored. These crimes go undetected for years, and it is discovered years later where the only thing that can be done is cleaning up the mess.

According to a report from Javelin Strategy & Research more than 1 million children were victims of identity theft or fraud in 2017, Two-thirds of those affected were age 7 or younger.

Preventive steps
Preventive steps include giving out personal information only if it is absolutely necessary to complete a transaction, protecting your sensitive key information from getting stolen, shredding sensitive personal and financial documents rather than just tossing them into the bin, and checking your credit report to catch suspicious activity on a regular basis.

One can use these techniques to protect oneself from being a victim.
  • To be cautious with what information about you is available online. Be very careful with what you share online because every time you give out any kind of personal information, you increase your chance to become one of the victims.
  • Strengthen your password and change them regularly. Try incorporating random combinations of letters, numbers or special characters in your passwords. Make sure all your accounts have different complex passwords, so it is not easy to hack into them. Relying on security questions is not a very safe way to secure your accounts.
  • Watch your Mail: Identity theft is not something that just happens online but can happen offline too. One of the easy ways to steal identity is stealing your mails. Make sure you attend to your mails and use a good security system for your mailbox.
  • Invest in a good Shredder: Any document that contains sensitive key information like credit card information, preapproved credit offers or bank statements shouldn’t be thrown into garbage directly but should be shredded instead so that no one can use this information otherwise.
  • Protect all the devices that you use on a regular basis: While downloading free apps, be cautious that those apps don’t contain malware. Use a strong complex password on your phone/laptop to jeep it safe.
  • Checking your credit reports regularly: Request for a report every 4 months, so that you can keep a tab for suspicious or incorrect information.
  • Stay alert: There is no harm in being extra-vigilant and cautious. Remember that the sooner you detect something that is wrong, the sooner you will be able to fix it.

Warning signs
Most victims dismiss the possible signs that can act as indicators and can save them from falling prey to the identity thieves.
  • Verification calls from a bank or a service provider
  • A warning/notice from a bank/service provider
  • Credit report showing unexplained entries
  • Small amounts being debited from your bank accounts in regular intervals
  • Purchases in your card statement that you have not authorized
  • Receiving a statement or bill for a service, you have not purchased/used.

Recovery steps
It is upon you to prove that you are not the person responsible for the suspicious activity in question. Make sure you remain persistent during the recovery process.
  1. Analyze what's been stolen.
    Before panicking, try to figure out what have you been a victim of. Try figuring what all have you lost.
  2. File a complaint with the police.
    You need to immediately file a complaint with your nearest police station or cyber crime cell which will help you prove that you have been a victim to a theft/crime. The police may just file a formal report and not pursue the matter but without the complaint you cannot seek legal remedies such as compensation from banks, etc. It will also be needed for other processes such as getting a new account and renewing the insurance, etc
  3. Place a Fraud Alert with a National Credit Reporting Agency. (CRA)
    Contacting one of the below mentioned CRA's can reduce the further risk of accounts being opened in your name without your authorization.

    Under the Security and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) there are 6 major credit reporting agencies in India
    • CIBIL
    • Experian
    • CRISIL
    • CRIF High Mark
    • ICRA
    • Equifax
  4. Checking Your Financial Accounts
    Make sure you close all the accounts that were opened in your name or with your personal information without your authorization and close all of your existing accounts that have seen unauthorized activity.
  5. Check Your Computer for Viruses
    There are chances that your computer may be infected with malicious computer programs, which could give access to the hacker to steal sensitive data such as bank account information, credit card details and other sensitive identification information. If you think that your computer is infected, run your anti-virus program to scan for any viruses, which needed to be removed.

  6. Record all your Actions.
    Keep a note of all the steps you have taken to address the situation. Make sure you include all the numbers you called, all the people you talked to, and dates of calls, faxes and mailings. Keep a copy of all correspondence, affidavits, reports, etc. relating to the situation.

  7. Order Credit Reports for Review
    Once you’ve placed a fraud alert, you will receive confirmation letters from the CRAs which will further guide you on how to order a free report. According to law it is compulsory that one free report from each CRA is available once every 12 months. You can request your credit report online or by calling their helpline number.

Indian Laws
With a constant increase in the frauds and cyber crimes the Government of India is taking measures to protect the rights of individual to be protected from frauds or identity theft. They are trying to formulate stronger laws to ensure data protection and privacy of citizens.

There are 2 ways where Identity Theft can be occurred:
  1. Wrongful collection of personal identity of an individual
  2. Wrongful use of personal information of an individual with an intention of causing legal harm to the person who’s information was used.

An identity theft is a crime that involves committing of both fraud and theft, therefore the provisions with provided under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC) is often invoked along with the Information Technology Act, 2000.

Some of the Sections of Indian Penal Code such as Forgery–sec. 464, Making False Documents- sec. 465, Forgery for Purpose of Cheating-sec. 468, Reputation-section 469, using as Genuine a Forged Document-sec. 471 and possession of a document known to be Forged and intending to use it as Genuine-sec. 474 can be coupled with those in the Information Technology Act.

IT Act, 2000 (The Information Technology Act) deals with the legislation in India governing cybercrimes. The Sections that deal with Cyber Theft are as follows: sec. 43- punishment by way of penalty and compensation for damage to computer/computer system, etc., sec. 66-Computer related offences, sec.66B-Punishment for dishonestly receiving stolen computer resource or communication device, sec. 66C-Punishment for identity theft, sec. 66D-punishing a person for cheating by personation by using computer resource.

The Government has made certain recommendations to include 2 new sections into the IPC (Indian Penal Code), Section 147A and 419A

Section 147A deals with cheating by using any unique identification feature of any other person shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to a period of three years, or with fine or both.

Section 419A deals with cheating by impersonating using a network or computer resource shall be punished with imprisonment for a term, which may extend to a period of five years, or fine or both.

The aim of this paper was to provide information on identity theft, its types, preventive measures, warning signs, recovering steps and laws relating to it.

In closing, it is fair to say that identity theft is one of the increasing crimes and could be leading the crime charts in the near future and is why one must always be precautious with their sensitive key information and not leave their important mails or devices that contain personal information unattended. One should be vigilant towards the warning signs and act upon them at the earliest.

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