While the advancement of technology has—for the most part—changed modern society for the better, it has also changed several aspects of it for the worse. How? Crime. Of particular note is identity theft, which has become significantly more rampant than it has ever been due to the advent of the Internet in the modern age.
Identity thieves, who once could only rely on tracing physical things such as paper trails and written legal documents, can now access the sensitive information of other individuals via the worldwide web. What is most unfortunate is that the Internet has made this issue even worse by virtue of making it easier to do and harder to track. Identity theft comes in many forms, and is a major global problem in today’s modern society.
The act of identity theft can occur very easily over the Internet, even if the user believes he or she is being cautious enough to avoid any possibility of it. As Justin Hyde notes in his article about preventing identity theft, this can happen so easily, in fact, that most victims of identity theft remain unaware of the crime for some time, sometimes “upwards of six months, if not more (7).”
Sharing personal information online over social media or some other digital format always puts one at risk of having his or her identity stolen (Kunick 25). A fraudster can gain access to a person’s PII—personally identifiable information—to commit fraud using various scams and invasive procedures, such as planting malware into someone’s computer or posing as a trusted organization and requesting an unaware consumer’s personal information over email (Moody 57).
There are several different methods of identity theft that may be employed by cybercriminals to obtain the sensitive information of an unsuspecting individual, such as phishing. Phishing is a cybercrime that occurs when identity thieves “send emails under the guise of legitimate financial institutions in an attempt to trick users into giving away their PII” (Kunick 25).
Kunick also goes on to mention another method known as malware. This is “malicious software that can attack one’s computer and reveal their sensitive information” (26). Additionally, criminals may try to trick people into giving them their personal information by telling them they have won a contest, and that to claim the prize, they need to provide credit card information.
Using the previously mentioned methods of obtaining sensitive information, identity theft may occur while shopping online. Mesch explains how this works in his article featured in a prominent science journal. He says that this can happen “when a criminal leverages stolen payment information or fraudulently acquired bank or credit card accounts, to attempt retail transactions without the account owner’s knowledge” (11). Another particularly prevalent form of identity theft is tax identity theft. This happens when “fraudsters acquire one’s name and social security number and file a tax return in his or her name before the victim does so” (Kunick 27).
With electronic tax filings becoming more wildly used, this has been a relatively easy crime to commit. As a result, this particular type of identity theft has grown substantially in recent years. Furthermore, another criminally attractive method of identity theft is child identity theft, because “there is usually no credit history established for the children who become victims, allowing scammers to use children’s social security numbers and other information to open new accounts, apply for government benefits, take out loans, and more” (Kunick 27).
One more type of identity theft—and one that is growing fast—is synthetic identity theft. This method comprises “80-to-85% of all current identity fraud” (Mesch 13). “Synthetic ID theft merges real and fake personal consumer data to create a new identity using information such as social security numbers, names, addresses, and birthdays” (Mesch 14). All of the aforementioned methods and more may be employed by identity thieves to create or acquire a phony identity. For the consumer, remaining vigilant while online can reduce the risk of becoming a victim.
In the unfortunate event that one’s identity has been stolen, there are certain steps that a person should take to resolve the issue as soon as possible, to avoid detrimental effects. “If a bank account has been affected, it should be shut down first and foremost” (Mesch 17). Doing this as soon as possible has the potential to save the victim a great deal of money. A fraud alert should also be requested from a credit reporting agency, as should a credit freeze.
As Mesch explains in his article, “a credit freeze will prevent the credit reporting agency from releasing the credit report to new [unauthorized] creditors” (17). Finally, the police should be alerted so that the crime may be reported. However, it should be noted “not all states have legislated that local law enforcement must take a police report on identity theft from consumers” (Mesch 15), so the police may not respond to a report such as this.
Identity theft has many negative effects on both the individuals that were victims of it and on the economy. For individuals, the financial toll of identity theft can be incredibly devastating. “Restoring good credit, closing affected bank accounts, and working with the Social Security Administration if a social security number was stolen could all be hurdles in the potentially lengthy recovery process” (Moody 59). For the economy, it can be just as bad. In 2003, “more than 9.9 million Americans learned they had been victims of identity theft, at a total cost of nearly $50 billion to the economy” (Mesch 22).
Identity theft continues to be a major global problem today. Not only is it incredibly damaging to both the individuals it affects and the economy, but it has become even more common due to the ways people can take advantage of technology, particularly the Internet. While the Internet—and technology in general—has mostly changed society for the better, this is one of many issues that has become worse as a result of it.