What is Identity Theft? All that you should know about this form of cybercrime

It is always good to count on the internet for essential tasks, but at the same time, we must be mindful of the details that we share. With our dependency on the internet increasing every day by leaps and bounds for all types of activities, it has also become a breeding ground for the bad guys to commit different kinds of frauds and thefts. One such crime that is one of the most elementary, and you have heard is identity theft that you can easily be a victim of.

However, if this is a new term for you, don’t worry, as today I will be discussing identity theft and the relevant facts associated with it. I will talk about what exactly it is, how you can be a victim of such a theft, how to know, if any such thing has happened to you, the precautions, and finally things that you can do to reverse the troubles that have been caused by identity theft. 

What is identity theft? 

From the term itself, you might already have an idea that identity theft has something to do with your identity. Identity theft is said to have happened when somebody steals your personal information to either impersonate you or use the information against you. By impersonating you, the fraudster can get products and services in your name, making you pay for all such benefits the fraudster has consumed. Needless to say, it all happens without your permission and in most cases, you won’t feel anything wrong has happened to you unless you are vigilant with where you are sharing your personal details. 

In simple words, the criminal or the one who committed the theft impersonates you to make the authorities feel, you are requesting the services. Hence such services are provided to the impersonator, but you end up paying the bills. 

How does identity theft take place? 

Well, now that you have a basic idea of identity theft, it is elementary to know, how identity is carried out, or how your identity is stolen, so that you can be careful. 

1. Data breaches 

If you are not living under a rock, you will come to know when data breaches of famous websites take place. Cybercriminals hack into the big servers that store customer details like login details, document codes like EPIC numbers, UIDAI, etc., in Indian perspective, and other personal information. All such information can be used by attackers to impersonate you.  

If you use the same password in different online services, impersonators can also log into services you frequently use, to avail of the services. While you will be informed about when such activity takes place with your personal details, through email, you should be vigilant. There are several websites like haveibeenpwned, where you can see if your details have been leaked in any data breach. 

2. Insecure websites and phishing 

Unless you are sticking to just reputed websites, there are insecure websites too that are compromised. If you provide any personal information to such websites, you are putting your personal information at risk. Additionally, cybercriminals or scammers also send messages and emails that seem to be from reputed sources, asking the users to send their personal information or send links that look like real ones to capture usernames and passwords.  

So, before you provide any personal information, check the website URL closely, and think twice before sharing any personal information on any website that you think is deceptive. 

3. Getting mobile phones stolen 

In the olden days’ phones used to be a device for communication. While the primary objective of a smartphone is still communication these days, it can also be used as a device for entertainment and is also an identity module as we store a lot of our personal details on our smartphones.  

We are logged into banking apps, social apps, and different other portals on our smartphones. If our smartphone gets stolen, the thief can use the saved credit card to order products and services, use our social networking profiles to contact people we know, and do everything else that we ourselves can do on our smartphones, eventually impersonating us. 

4. Open and insecure Wi-Fi networks 

Using Wi-Fi is a common phenomenon these days, but you should be extra cautious while you are using open Wi-Fi networks at a coffee shop or airport. Hackers on an open Wi-Fi network can intercept the packets sent or received between the Wi-Fi router and your device through eavesdropping.  

So, if you are using the internet for carrying out some essential tasks online, better use your mobile network, or a trusted Wi-Fi network. 

5. Theft of credit card 

If somebody steals your credit card, it is one of the most common forms of identity theft that can wreak havoc on your finances. The thief can now use the credit card to make unauthorized transactions that will knock you down financially as you have to pay the bills. Besides physically stealing the credit card, cybercriminals can steal the details through data breaches, skimming machines, or mobile theft, if you use apps like Samsung Pay or other NFC-based apps that create a virtual copy of your credit card for convenient payments.  

So, you should be very careful while storing your credit card, use NFT-proof cases to keep your card, and tokenize your card on apps and websites where you use the card. 

6. Malware activities 

Malware infections have been here since the time the internet came into existence, and they are equally prevalent today. Attackers can easily extract personal details by compromising your computer if you aren’t cautious. Avoid clicking on any malicious links in emails and keep away from downloading executable files unless you are sure about the publisher.  

Nowadays malware can go a step forward and steal login details right from the browser, or use malicious agents like keyloggers to record keystrokes. The best you can do is, use an antimalware program to keep your system secure and be careful while you use the internet. 

While these are common ways of how identity theft takes place, cybercriminals can resort to other ways as well, to steal your personal information. It can be from the dark web if you are active there. Furthermore, if you use a public computer, and forget to log out of all the websites that you have used during the session, the attackers can steal your details. 

How identity theft can impact your well-being? 

Now that I have discussed the most common forms of identity theft, you should also know the consequences. As you are well aware of the ways identity theft can take place, you also have the feeling of what identity theft can lead to. 

Based on the type of personal information stolen, the fraudsters can issue new SIM cards in your name to carry out illegal activities, get new credit cards issued, file false insurance claims, and do a lot more. If nothing like that happens, the thief can sell it to another thief and make some money, before the trip of your personal data ends and you face the consequences. 

Identity theft can lead to both financial losses, as well as reputation losses, or can even shatter you emotionally. Whether the loss will be immediate depends on the information that is stolen, and also who has stolen the information. 

Checking for any identity theft 

Well, now that you know a lot about identity theft, you should also have the realization of identity theft. So, now we will have a look at how you can understand whether you have been through identity theft.  

1. Check your credit card and bank statements 

While you can easily get informed about transactions these days through SMS messages, there’s nothing better than checking the credit card and bank statements to get first-hand information about the transactions. That way, you can easily find any suspicious transactions, and you can ask the bank or credit card company to take action. This is the first indication of any possible identity theft, and in this case, you should at least have your account frozen or block your credit card. 

2. Check the credit report 

There are different services these days where you can check your credit report. You can’t just find your creditworthiness, but you can also see the credit card and loan accounts opened in your name in any bank that reports to credit bureaus. If you find any credit card or loan account that isn’t opened by you, contact the credit bureau, or the bank to immediately take action. If you find any hard inquiry in your name, that is also a sign your identity is stolen. In the case of a hard inquiry, your finances will not be messed up, but your credit score will be impacted 

3. Check your emails 

If all that seems to be a lot of work for you, you can check your inbox regularly to find out if your email account is used to create a new profile on any website. Furthermore, most credit card companies and banks will send transaction alerts, and if you find any transaction not done by you, that is an indication of something wrong or an identity theft. 

So those are some ways you can have an idea of whether you have been through identity theft. 

Things to do if you have been through identity theft 

Now that you have enough idea about identity theft, you should know the steps to follow, once you have been through the hassle of identity theft.  

Well, there is no one size that fits all when it comes to reversing the impacts or getting over the damages caused to you by identity theft.  It all depends upon the information that is actually stolen and the damages that have already been committed by the fraudsters.  

If financial fraud has been committed with you after your identity is stolen, you should approach the bank or credit card company to freeze your account or block the card, whichever is applicable. You should also ask for a refund if any unauthorized transaction has been done on your behalf. However, the process might take several days as multiple parties are involved.  

If it isn’t a financial fraud, but the fraudsters have gained access to your social network profiles, you should change the password immediately to revoke access to the sites by the intruder. You can fix the reputation loss caused to you by personally communicating with the friends and family members the intruder has contacted.  

Last but not least, you should always contact the legal authorities to inform them about the theft so that the intruder can be punished. After all, it is a crime, and you should inform the legal authorities, just like you do in case a regular crime happens to you.  

So, that was all about identity theft that you should know. Hope the information was useful for you. Do you have any further questions regarding the topic? Feel free to comment on the same below.