Identity theft is the deliberate use of someone else's identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person's name, and perhaps to the other person's disadvantage or loss. The person whose identity has been assumed may suffer adverse consequences,  especially if they are held responsible for the perpetrator's actions. Identity theft occurs when someone uses another's personally identifying information, like their name, identifying number, or credit card number, without their permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. The term identity theft was coined in 1964. Since that time, the definition of identity theft has been statutorily prescribed throughout both the U.K. and the United States as the theft of personally identifying information, generally including a person's name, date of birth, social security number, driver's license number, bank account or credit card numbers, PIN numbers, electronic signatures, fingerprints, passwords, or any other information that can be used to access a person's financial resources.
Determining the link between data breaches and identity theft is challenging, primarily because identity theft victims often do not know how their personal information was obtained, and identity theft is not always detectable by the individual victims, according to a report done for the FTC.Identity fraud is often but not necessarily the consequence of identity theft. Someone can steal or misappropriate personal information without then committing identity theft using the information about every person, such as when a major data breach occurs. A US Government Accountability Office study determined that "most breaches have not resulted in detected incidents of identity theft". The report also warned that "the full extent is unknown". A later unpublished study by Carnegie Mellon University noted that "Most often, the causes of identity theft is not known", but reported that someone else concluded that "the probability of becoming a victim to identity theft as a result of a data breach is ... around only 2%". More recently, an association of consumer data companies noted that one of the largest data breaches ever, accounting for over four million records, resulted in only about 1,800 instances of identity theft, according to the company whose systems were breached.
An October 2010 article entitled "Cyber Crime Made Easy" explained the level to which hackers are using malicious software. As one security specialist named Gunter Ollmann said, "Interested in credit card theft? There's an app for that." This statement summed up the ease with which these hackers are accessing all kinds of information online. The new program for infecting users' computers is called Zeus; and the program is so hacker friendly that even an inexperienced hacker can operate it. Although the hacking program is easy to use, that fact does not diminish the devastating effects that Zeus (or other software like Zeus) can do to a computer and the user. For example, the article stated that programs like Zeus can steal credit card information, important documents, and even documents necessary for homeland security. If the hacker were to gain this information, it would mean identity theft or even a possible terrorist attack. The ITAC says that about 15 million Americans are having their identity stolen, in 2012.
Identity theft may be used to facilitate or fund other crimes including illegal immigration, terrorism, phishing and espionage. There are cases of identity cloning to attack payment systems, including online credit card processing and medical insurance.
In this situation, the identity thief impersonates someone else in order to conceal their own true identity. Examples might be illegal immigrants, people hiding from creditors or other individuals, or those who simply want to become "anonymous" for personal reasons. Another example are posers, a label given to people who use somebody else's photos and information through social networking sites. Mostly, posers create believable stories involving friends of the real person they are imitating. Unlike identity theft used to obtain credit which usually comes to light when the debts mount, concealment may continue indefinitely without being detected, particularly if the identity thief is able to obtain false credentials in order to pass various authentication tests in everyday life.
When a criminal fraudulently identifies himself to police as another individual at the point of arrest, it is sometimes referred to as "Criminal Identity Theft." In some cases criminals have previously obtained state-issued identity documents using credentials stolen from others, or have simply presented a fake ID. Provided the subterfuge works, charges may be placed under the victim's name, letting the criminal off the hook. Victims might only learn of such incidents by chance, for example by receiving court summons, discovering their drivers licenses are suspended when stopped for minor traffic violations, or through background checks performed for employment purposes.
It can be difficult for the victim of a criminal identity theft to clear their record. The steps required to clear the victim's incorrect criminal record depend in which jurisdiction the crime occurred and whether the true identity of the criminal can be determined. The victim might need to locate the original arresting officers and prove their own identity by some reliable means such as fingerprinting or DNA testing, and may need to go to a court hearing to be cleared of the charges. Obtaining an expungement of court records may also be required. Authorities might permanently maintain the victim's name as an alias for the criminal's true identity in their criminal records databases. One problem that victims of criminal identity theft may encounter is that various data aggregators might still have the incorrect criminal records in their databases even after court and police records are corrected. Thus it is possible that a future background check will return the incorrect criminal records. This is just one example of the kinds of impact that may continue to affect the victims of identity theft for some months or even years after the crime, aside from the psychological trauma that being 'cloned' typically engenders.
A variation of identity theft which has recently become more common is synthetic identity theft, in which identities are completely or partially fabricated. The most common technique involves combining a real social security number with a name and birthdate other than the ones associated with the number. Synthetic identity theft is more difficult to track as it doesn't show on either person's credit report directly, but may appear as an entirely new file in the credit bureau or as a subfile on one of the victim's credit reports. Synthetic identity theft primarily harms the creditors who unwittingly grant the fraudsters credit. Individual victims can be affected if their names become confused with the synthetic identities, or if negative information in their subfiles impacts their credit ratings.
Privacy researcher Pam Dixon, founder of the World Privacy Forum, coined the term medical identity theft and released the first major report about this issue in 2006. In the report, she defined the crime for the first time and made the plight of victims public. The report's definition of the crime is that medical identity theft occurs when someone seeks medical care under the identity of another person. Insurance theft is also very common, if a thief has your insurance information and or your insurance card, they can seek medical attention posing as yourself. In addition to risks of financial harm common to all forms of identity theft, the thief's medical history may be added to the victim's medical records. Inaccurate information in the victim's records is difficult to correct and may affect future insurability or cause doctors relying on the misinformation to deliver inappropriate medical care. After the publication of the report, which contained a recommendation that consumers receive notifications of medical data breach incidents, California passed a law requiring this, and then finally HIPAA was expanded to also require medical breach notification when breaches affect 500 or more people. Data collected and stored by hospitals and other organisations such as medical aid schemes is up to 10 times more valuable to cybercriminals than credit card information.
Child identity theft occurs when a minor's identity is used by another person for the impostor's personal gain. The impostor can be a family member, a friend, or even a stranger who targets children. The Social Security numbers of children are valued because they do not have any information associated with them. Thieves can establish lines of credit, obtain driver's licenses, or even buy a house using a child's identity. This fraud can go undetected for years, as most children do not discover the problem until years later. Child identity theft is fairly common, and studies have shown that the problem is growing. The largest study on child identity theft, as reported by Richard Power of the Carnegie Mellon Cylab with data supplied by AllClear ID, found that of 40,000 children, 10.2% were victims of identity theft.
The most common type is financial identity theft, where someone wants to gain economical benefits in someone else's name. This includes getting credits, loans, goods and services, claiming to be someone else.
Identity thieves typically obtain and exploit personally identifiable information about individuals, or various credentials they use to authenticate themselves, in order to impersonate them. Examples include:
The majority of identity theft victims do not realize that they are a victim until it has negatively impacted their lives. Many people do not find out that their identities have been stolen until they are contacted by financial institutions or discover suspicious activities on their bank accounts. According to an article by Herb Weisbaum, everyone in the US should assume that their personal information has been compromised at one point. It is therefore of great importance to watch out for warning signs that your identity has been compromised. The following are ten indicators that someone else might be using your identity.
The acquisition of personal identifiers is made possible through serious breaches of privacy. For consumers, this is usually a result of them naively providing their personal information or login credentials to the identity thieves as a result of being duped but identity-related documents such as credit cards, bank statements, utility bills, checkbooks etc. may also be physically stolen from vehicles, homes, offices, and not the least letter boxes, or directly from victims by pickpockets and bag snatchers. Guardianship of personal identifiers by consumers is the most common intervention strategy recommended by the US Federal Trade Commission, Canadian Phone Busters and most sites that address identity theft. Such organizations offer recommendations on how individuals can prevent their information falling into the wrong hands.
Identity theft can be partially mitigated by not identifying oneself unnecessarily (a form of information security control known as risk avoidance). This implies that organizations, IT systems and procedures should not demand excessive amounts of personal information or credentials for identification and authentication. Requiring, storing and processing personal identifiers (such as Social Security number, national identification number, driver's license number, credit card number, etc.) increases the risks of identity theft unless this valuable personal information is adequately secured at all times. Committing personal identifiers to memory is a sound practice that can reduce the risks of a would-be identity thief from obtaining these records. To help in remembering numbers such as social security numbers and credit card numbers, it is helpful to consider using mnemonic techniques or memory aids such as the mnemonic Major System.
Identity thieves sometimes impersonate dead people, using personal information obtained from death notices, gravestones and other sources to exploit delays between the death and the closure of the person's accounts, the inattentiveness of grieving families and weaknesses in the processes for credit-checking. Such crimes may continue for some time until the deceased's families or the authorities notice and react to anomalies.
In recent years, commercial identity theft protection/insurance services have become available in many countries. These services purport to help protect the individual from identity theft or help detect that identity theft has occurred in exchange for a monthly or annual membership fee or premium. The services typically work either by setting fraud alerts on the individual's credit files with the three major credit bureaus or by setting up credit report monitoring with the credit bureaux. While identity theft protection/insurance services have been heavily marketed, their value has been called into question.
In their May 1998 testimony before the United States Senate, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) discussed the sale of Social Security numbers and other personal identifiers by credit-raters and data miners. The FTC agreed to the industry's self-regulating principles restricting access to information on credit reports. According to the industry, the restrictions vary according to the category of customer. Credit reporting agencies gather and disclose personal and credit information to a wide business client base.
Poor stewardship of personal data by organizations, resulting in unauthorized access to sensitive data, can expose individuals to the risk of identity theft. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has documented over 900 individual data breaches by US companies and government agencies since January 2005, which together have involved over 200 million total records containing sensitive personal information, many containing social security numbers. Poor corporate diligence standards which can result in data breaches include:
The failure of corporate or government organizations to protect consumer privacy, client confidentiality and political privacy has been criticized for facilitating the acquisition of personal identifiers by criminals.
Using various types of biometric information, such as fingerprints, for identification and authentication has been cited as a way to thwart identity thieves, however there are technological limitations and privacy concerns associated with these methods as well.
In March 2014, after it was learned two passengers with stolen passports were on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which went missing on March 8, 2014, it came to light that Interpol maintains a database of 40 million lost and stolen travel documents from 157 countries which it makes available to governments and the public, including airlines and hotels. The Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database however is little used. Big News Network which is based in the UAE, observed that Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble told a forum in Abu Dhabi the previous month this was the case. "The bad news is that, despite being incredibly cost effective and deployable to virtually anywhere in the world, only a handful of countries are systematically using SLTD to screen travelers. The result is a major gap in our global security apparatus that is left vulnerable to exploitation by criminals and terrorists," Noble is quoted as saying.
In Australia, each state has enacted laws that deal with different aspects of identity or fraud issues. Some states have now amended relevant criminal laws to reflect crimes of identity theft, such as the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), Crimes Amendment (Fraud, Identity and Forgery Offences) Act 2009 and also in Queensland under the Criminal Code 1899 (QLD). Other states and territories are in states of development in respect of regulatory frameworks relating to identity theft such as Western Australia in respect of Criminal Code Amendment (Identity Crime) Bill 2009.
At the Commonwealth level, under the Criminal Code Amendment (Theft, Fraud, Bribery & Related Offences) Act 2000 which amended certain provisions within the Criminal Code Act 1995,
Between 2014 and 2015, in Australia there were 133,921 fraud and deception offences, an increase of 6% from previous year. The total cost reported by the Attorney General Department was:
|Fraud category||Cost per incident||Total direct cost|
|Police recorded fraud||$4,412 per unrecorded incident
$27,981 per recorded incident
There are also high indirect costs associated as a direct result of an incident. For example, the total indirect costs for police recorded fraud is $5,774,081.
135.1 General dishonesty
(3) A person is guilty of an offence if a) the person does anything with the intention of dishonestly causing a loss to another person; and b) the other person is a Commonwealth entity. Penalty: Imprisonment for 5 years.
Likewise, each state has enacted their own privacy laws to prevent misuse of personal information and data. The Commonwealth Privacy Act is applicable only to Commonwealth and territory agencies, and to certain private sector bodies (where for example they deal with sensitive records, such as medical records, or they have more than $3 million turnover PA).
Under section 402.2 of the Criminal Code,
Everyone commits an offence who knowingly obtains or possesses another person's identity information in circumstances giving rise to a reasonable inference that the information is intended to be used to commit an indictable offence that includes fraud, deceit or falsehood as an element of the offence.
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years; or is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
Under section 403 of the Criminal Code,
(1) Everyone commits an offence who fraudulently personates another person, living or dead,
(a) with intent to gain advantage for themselves or another person; (b) with intent to obtain any property or an interest in any property; (c) with intent to cause disadvantage to the person being personated or another person; or (d) with intent to avoid arrest or prosecution or to obstruct, pervert or defeat the course of justice. is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than 10 years; or guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
In Canada, Privacy Act (federal legislation) covers only federal government, agencies and crown corporations. Each province and territory has its own privacy law and privacy commissioners to limit the storage and use of personal data. For the private sector, the purpose of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act ( 2000, c. 5 ) (known as PIPEDA) is to establish rules to govern the collection, use and disclosure of personal information; except for the provinces of Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia where provincial laws have been deemed substantially similar.
Under HK Laws. Chap 210 Theft Ordinance, sec. 16A Fraud
(1) If any person by any deceit (whether or not the deceit is the sole or main inducement) and with intent to defraud induces another person to commit an act or make an omission, which results either-
(a) in benefit to any person other than the second-mentioned person; or (b) in prejudice or a substantial risk of prejudice to any person other than the first-mentioned person, the first-mentioned person commits the offense of fraud and is liable on conviction upon indictment to imprisonment for 14 years.
Under the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, it established the post of Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data and mandate how much personal information one can collect, retain and destruction. This legislation also provides citizens the right to request information held by businesses and government to the extent provided by this law.
Under the Information Technology Act 2000 Chapter IX Sec 66C
PUNISHMENT FOR IDENTITY THEFT Whoever, fraudulently or dishonestly makes use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to rupees one lakh.
Social networking sites are one of the most famous spreader of posers in the online community, giving the users freedom to place any information they want without any verification that the account is being used by the real person.
Philippines, which ranks eighth in the numbers of users of Facebook and other social networking sites such as Twitter, Multiply and Tumblr, has been known as source of various identity theft problems. Identities of those people who carelessly put personal information on their profiles can easily be stolen just by simple browsing. There are people who meet online, get to know each other through the free Facebook chat and exchange of messages that then leads to sharing of private information. Others get romantically involved with their online friends that they tend to give too much information such as their social security number, bank account and even personal basic information such as home address and company address.
This phenomenon lead to the creation of Senate Bill 52: Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2010. Section 2 of this bill states that it recognizes the importance of communication and multimedia for the development, exploitation and dissemination of information but violators will be punished by the law through imprisonment or a fine upwards of Php200,000, but not exceeding 1 million, or depending on the damage caused, or both (Section 7).
Sweden has had relatively few problems with identity theft. This is because only Swedish identity documents have been accepted for identity verification. Stolen documents are traceable by banks and some other institutions. The banks have the duty to check the identity of people withdrawing money or getting loans. If a bank gives money to someone using an identity document reported as stolen, the bank must take the loss. Since 2008, any EU passport is valid in Sweden for identity check, and Swedish passports are valid all over the EU. This makes it harder to detect stolen documents, but still banks in Sweden must ensure that stolen documents are not accepted.
Other types of identity theft have become more common in Sweden. One common example is ordering a credit card to someone who has an unlocked letterbox and is not home in the daytime. The thief steals the letter with the credit card and then the letter with the code which typically arrives a few days later. Usage of a stolen credit card is hard in Sweden, since an identity document or a PIN code it is normally demanded. If the shop does not demand that, it must take the loss from stolen credit cards. The method of observing someone using the credit card PIN code, stealing the card or skimming it, and then using the card, has become more common.
Legally, Sweden is an open society. The Principle of Public Access says that all information kept by public authorities must be available for anyone except in certain cases. Specifically, anyone's address, income, taxes etc. are available to anyone. This makes fraud easier (the address is restricted only for people who needs to hide).
There was until 2016 no legal ban specifically against using someone's identity, only on the indirect damage caused. To impersonate someone else for financial gain is a kind of fraud, which is described in the Criminal Code (Swedish: brottsbalken). To impersonate someone else to discredit someone by breaking into social media accounts and provoke, is libel, but that is hard to sentence someone for. A new law was introduced late 2016 which partially banned unpermitted identity usage.
In the United Kingdom personal data is protected by the Data Protection Act 1998. The Act covers all personal data which an organization may hold, including names, birthday and anniversary dates, addresses, telephone numbers, etc.
Under English law (which extends to Wales but not to Northern Ireland or Scotland), the deception offences under the Theft Act 1968 increasingly contend with identity theft situations. In R v Seward (2005) EWCA Crim 1941 the defendant was acting as the "front man" in the use of stolen credit cards and other documents to obtain goods. He obtained goods to the value of £10,000 for others who are unlikely ever to be identified. The Court of Appeal considered sentencing policy for deception offenses involving "identity theft" and concluded that a prison sentence was required. Henriques J. said at para 14:"Identity fraud is a particularly pernicious and prevalent form of dishonesty calling for, in our judgment, deterrent sentences."
Statistics released by CIFAS - The UK's Fraud Prevention Service show that there were 89,000 victims of identity theft in the UK 2010. This compared with 2009 where there were 85,000 victims. Men in their 30s and 40s are the most common UK victims and identity fraud now accounts for nearly half of all frauds recorded.
The increase in crimes of identity theft led to the drafting of the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act. In 1998, The Federal Trade Commission appeared before the United States Senate. The FTC discussed crimes which exploit consumer credit to commit loan fraud, mortgage fraud, lines-of-credit fraud, credit card fraud, commodities and services frauds. The Identity Theft Deterrence Act (2003)[ITADA] amended U.S. Code Title 18, § 1028 ("Fraud related to activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information"). The statute now makes the possession of any "means of identification" to "knowingly transfer, possess, or use without lawful authority" a federal crime, alongside unlawful possession of identification documents. However, for federal jurisdiction to prosecute, the crime must include an "identification document" that either: (a) is purportedly issued by the United States, (b) is used or intended to defraud the United States, (c) is sent through the mail, or (d) is used in a manner that affects interstate or foreign commerce. See 18 U.S.C. § 1028(c). Punishment can be up to 5, 15, 20, or 30 years in federal prison, plus fines, depending on the underlying crime per 18 U.S.C. § 1028(b). In addition, punishments for the unlawful use of a "means of identification" were strengthened in § 1028A ("Aggravated Identity Theft"), allowing for a consecutive sentence under specific enumerated felony violations as defined in § 1028A(c)(1) through (11).
The Act also provides the Federal Trade Commission with authority to track the number of incidents and the dollar value of losses. Their figures relate mainly to consumer financial crimes and not the broader range of all identification-based crimes.
If charges are brought by state or local law enforcement agencies, different penalties apply depending on the state.
Six Federal agencies conducted a joint task force to increase the ability to detect identity theft. Their joint recommendation on "red flag" guidelines is a set of requirements on financial institutions and other entities which furnish credit data to credit reporting services to develop written plans for detecting identity theft. The FTC has determined that most medical practices are considered creditors and are subject to requirements to develop a plan to prevent and respond to patient identity theft. These plans must be adopted by each organization's Board of Directors and monitored by senior executives.
Identity theft complaints as a percentage of all fraud complaints decreased from 2004-2006. The Federal Trade Commission reported that fraud complaints in general were growing faster than ID theft complaints. The findings were similar in two other FTC studies done in 2003 and 2005. In 2003, 4.6 percent of the US population said they were a victim of ID theft. In 2005, that number had dropped to 3.7 percent of the population. The Commission's 2003 estimate was that identity theft accounted for some $52.6 billion of losses in the preceding year alone and affected more than 9.91 million Americans; the figure comprises $47.6 billion lost by businesses and $5 billion lost by consumers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010, 7% of US households experienced identity theft - up from 5.5% in 2005 when the figures were first assembled, but broadly flat since 2007. In 2012, approximately 16.6 million persons, or 7% of all U.S. residents age 16 or older, reported being victims of one or more incidents of identity theft.
In 2009, Indiana created an Identity Theft Unit within their Office of Attorney General to educate and assist consumers in avoiding and recovering from identity theft as well as assist law enforcement in investigating and prosecuting identity theft crimes.
In Massachusetts in 2009-2010, Governor Deval Patrick made a commitment to balance consumer protection with the needs of small business owners. His Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation announced certain adjustments to Massachusetts' identity theft regulations that maintain protections and also allows flexibility in compliance. These updated regulations went into effect on March 1, 2010. The regulations are clear that their approach to data security is a risk-based approach important to small businesses and might not handle a lot of personal information about customers.
The IRS has created[when?] the IRS Identity Protection Specialized Unit to help taxpayers' who are victims of federal tax-related identity theft. Generally, the identity thief will use a stolen SSN to file a forged tax return and attempt to get a fraudulent refund early in the filing season. A taxpayer will need to fill out Form 14039, Identity Theft Affidavit.
Many states followed California's lead and enacted mandatory data breach notification laws. As a result, companies that report a data breach typically report it to all their customers.
Surveys in the USA from 2003 to 2006 showed a decrease in the total number of victims and a decrease in the total value of identity fraud from US$47.6 billion in 2003 to $15.6 billion in 2006. The average fraud per person decreased from $4,789 in 2003 to $1,882 in 2006. A Microsoft report shows that this drop is due to statistical problems with the methodology, that such survey-based estimates are "hopelessly flawed" and exaggerate the true losses by orders of magnitude.
The 2003 survey from the Identity Theft Resource Center found that:
In a widely publicized account, Michelle Brown, a victim of identity fraud, testified before a U.S. Senate Committee Hearing on Identity Theft. Ms. Brown testified that: "over a year and a half from January 1998 through July 1999, one individual impersonated me to procure over $50,000 in goods and services. Not only did she damage my credit, but she escalated her crimes to a level that I never truly expected: she engaged in drug trafficking. The crime resulted in my erroneous arrest record, a warrant out for my arrest, and eventually, a prison record when she was booked under my name as an inmate in the Chicago Federal Prison."
In the United Kingdom, the Home Office reported that identity fraud costs the UK economy £1.2 billion annually (experts believe that the real figure could be much higher) although privacy groups object to the validity of these numbers, arguing that they are being used by the government to push for introduction of national ID cards. Confusion over exactly what constitutes identity theft has led to claims that statistics may be exaggerated. An extensively reported study from Microsoft Research in 2011 finds that estimates of identity theft losses contain enormous exaggerations, writing that surveys "are so compromised and biased that no faith whatever can be placed in their findings."
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