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IDENTITY THEFT

By: Niket Khandelwal* |



A Brief Snippet of Identity Theft


Identity Theft has been around in one or the other form for hundreds of years. But the rise of technology in the late 20th century heralded in a new era of identity fraud. The crime is now more common than ever, and perhaps more devastating. As more people came to the Internet, more of their data became vulnerable to hacks, malware, and phishing.[1] Finding a link between data breaches and identity theft is demanding, as the victims often do not know how their information/data was obtained because identity theft is not always traceable by the individual victims.



What is Identity Theft?


Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, is a crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person through unauthorized means. It is for the sole purpose of assuming that person’s name or identity to make transactions or purchases. In this theft, the impostor obtains key pieces of Personal Identifiable Information (PII)[2]. The fearsome reality is that it could happen to anyone.


According to the NortonLifeLock[3] findings from its annual Cyber Safety Insights report, nearly 4 of 10 Indian adults have been targets of identity theft at some point in their life, while 10% of them experienced it in last one year.


Various Types of Identity Theft


Identity Theft can be categorized into following 9 types[4]:

(1) Financial Identity Theft – This is one of the most common types of occurring identity theft. In this, the impersonator uses a robbed identity to seek economic benefits.

(2) Medical Identity Theft – In this, the impostor steals the health insurance member number to avail free medical services. It could trigger deceptive billing to the insurance provider.

(3) Tax Identity Theft – In this, the thieves/criminals can use the Social Security Number (SSN) to fraudulently receive your tax refund.

(4) Criminal Identity Theft – In this, the arrested person may represent himself as another person/victim. This results in a criminal record in the name of the victim[5].

(5) Senior Identity Theft – In this, typically seniors above the age of 60 are made a target. Hence, the thief withdraws the documents or personal information.

(6) Child Identity Theft – In this, the thief uses the child’s Social Security Number (SSN) to open bank accounts or for availing government services. The children are generally a very easy target because the damage may go untraceable for a long time.

(7) Synthetic Identity Theft – In this, the criminal creates a new identity by combining real and fake information. The real information is generally stolen[6].

(8) Social identity theft – In this, your name, photos, and other personal information can be used to create a fake account.

(9) Identity Cloning – It is an act of an imposter who takes up the identity of another person, and lives and works like the victim. This type of identity theft may not necessarily be for any financial gains.[7]


Identity Theft Techniques


There are various techniques used by the thieves to extract valuable personal information from a victim. These techniques include the following[8]:

(1) Dumpster Diving – Thieves go through the electronic garbage to find documents to extract account numbers, SSN, and other sensitive personal information to trick the victim. Thus, these documents should be shredded before being thrown away.

(2) Internet – The thieves intercept information sent over unsecured internet connections.

(3) Phishing – It involves using email to trick people. Thieves send emails and pop-ups which appears like the ones from official organizations like banks and credit card companies. Phishing email generally contains attachments with malware designed to steal personal information.

(4) Shoulder Surfing – This happens when a thief looks over your shoulder as you complete financial transactions, fill forms, enter a passcode or provide personal information over the phone, and perhaps even your Social Security Number.

(5) Pretext Calling – Thieves use this technique to appear and pretend like a legitimate organization you do business with. They generally ask inconsequential information, and they use them to learn more about you from various sources. They do this with the pretext of being more helpful.

(6) Mail Theft – Thieves often thrive on plucking vital information from your mailbox. They generally look for credit card offers, bank account statements. They are known to reroute mail to get their hands on your personal information.

(7) Public Wi-Fi – Portable workplaces are quite popular and with a public Wi-Fi your system can be intercepted by outsiders.

(8) Old Technology Disposal – While dispensing with old mobile devices and computers, one should make sure that the information stored in them is unreadable or is formatted.

(9) Unsolicited Requests – A victim should never respond to unsolicited inquiries that ask for personal data such as Name, DOB, SSN, etc.



How to Know If Someone Stole Your Valuable Information


Some of the ways are-[9]:

(1) Look for - Are there any charges for the things you did not purchase.

(2) Watch your bank account statement.

(3) Check your mail to identify if you stopped getting a bill or if a new bill arrived and you know nothing about it.

(4) Examine your credit report.

(5) Look for Health Insurance Benefits. Did your plan showed a benefit granted the option.

(6) Look for a Tax Notice. If more than one income tax return is filed in your name.



Consequences of Identity Theft


Such kind of theft often involves a financial loss, but there can be other consequences too. What is worse is that the impact of identity theft can last of months or years. There are many ways in which an individual can be affected by identity theft. Such ways are[10]:


(1) Financial Toll – This is one of the most important tolls that can happen to an individual. Many hurdles can be there in the recovery of such a loss. Some of them are:


i. Cleaning up the compromised bank accounts and opening the new ones.

ii. Disputing with the credit company to restore your credit score.

iii. Working with the tax authorities to claim your income tax refund.


The financial impact can affect your retirement, mortgage, and your child’s education.

There can be the cost of legal fees if your matter is complicated and requires legal advice.


(2) Emotional Toll – ID theft is a faceless crime and it can trigger a lot of emotions on a personal level. It can disrupt your sleeping pattern, eating habits, and can also lead to isolation and sometimes depression. This crime can affect not only your emotional stability but that of your family[11].

Identity theft is a complex problem. Thus, it is not surprising if some victims react as survivors of prolonged, repeated trauma, much like prisoners of war. The victims may compare the crime to torture or rape.

(3) Physical Toll – In a 2016 ITRC’s survey[12], 39% people experienced an inability to focus, 29% people reported new physical ailment/illness such as sweating, body pain, heart issues, etc., 41% had sleep issues and 10% people couldn’t go to work.

From the above data, it is very evident that identity theft issues could also manifest as physical symptoms.

(4) Social Toll – In this digital era, it is seemingly easy to gain access to someone’s accounts or passwords through hacking or if the victim is on public Wi-Fi. When you are on social media and you rely on it for jobs and connecting with friends and family, then a thief can damage your reputation by using your current accounts or creating new accounts or fraudulent accounts. Thus, thereby tampering with your identity.



Steps to Prevent Identity Theft/Fraud


In addition to these different kinds of tolls, a victim’s job or his reputation can be in danger. Depending on various circumstances, identity theft can take years to recover from.

To save oneself from such theft/fraud, an individual should take note of the following points[13]:

· Regularly check credit reports.

· Destroy unsolicited credit applications.

· Pay keen attention to billing cycles and follow-up.

· Avoid storing or carrying Social Security Numbers around.

· Shredding discarded sensitive financial documents.

· Keep a check on unauthorized transactions from your bank accounts.

· Avoid giving out personal information in reply to unsolicited emails.

· Do not ignore your trash.

· Protect your computer and financial documents with passwords.

· Update your virus protection software regularly.

· Do not download files from links you do not know of.

While preventing identity theft with the above-mentioned methods is the best way to deal with scammers, you may still fall victim.



The Safest Bet - Identity Theft Insurance


This kind of insurance is designed to cover some costs related to identity theft[14]. The money spent on reclaiming the financial identities and repairing their credit reports is being reimbursed by the insurance companies. Identity theft insurance usually covers expenses such as lost wages, notary fees, legal fees, childcare costs, credit monitoring services, etc.

This insurance does not cover any financial losses that you may incur because of identity theft. The insurance policy only reimburses some expenses that happen after identity theft occurs. Some of the companies which provide such insurance are Bajaj Allianz, HDFC ERGO, etc.



Law Governing Identity Theft in India


Section 66C of the Information Technology Act, 2000, states the Punishment for Identity Theft under Chapter IX.[15] It punishes for the dishonest or fraudulent use of the electronic signature, password, or any other unique identification feature of another person. The offender shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine with may extend to rupees one lakh[16].



Existing Policing in India


Cyber and Information Security Division (C&IS)[17] deals with matters related to Cyber Security, Cyber Crime, National Information Security Policy, etc. In 2009, a department named Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems (CCTNS) was created for an IT-enabled criminal tracking and criminal detection system. Some 15,000 police stations function under it.


Case Law


This case[18] covers the concept of ‘Phishing’. The accused was responsible for sending the emails to the third party in the name of NASSCOM to receive the confidential data. The court-appointed two committees to investigate the matter. They found that the accused had two hard drives from which the emails were sent to the target customers. In the evidence, the offending emails were downloaded. The accused used fictitious Identities to dodge from the legal action.


Later the accused admitted that they are guilty and ended up with a compromise of Rs. 1.6 million for the damage and the violation of their trademark rights.

The case is important as it brings the concept of ‘Phishing’ into our legal jurisprudence.


Conclusion


Identity Theft is gearing up to be one of the major criminal issues soon. This is owing to the growing number of cases of identity theft. It is seemingly difficult for the authorities to detect criminals/thieves who are going to commit identity theft as they remain unseen most of the times. Therefore, people should always be cautious with their personal information.


***


* The author is a student at Law Centre-1, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi.

[1] Jake Stroup, A Brief History of Identity Theft, THE BALANCE (Mar. 22, 2020), https://www.thebalance.com/a-brief-history-of-identity-theft-1947514. [2] Jake Frankenfield, Personally Identifiable Information (PII), INVESTOPEDIA (Jul. 9, 2019), https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/personally-identifiable-information-pii.asp. [3] Abhijit Ahaskar, Every four of 10 Indians have experienced identity theft, NortonLifeLock, LIVEMINT (Apr. 7, 2020, 01:51 PM), https://www.livemint.com/news/india/every-four-of-10-indians-have-experienced-identity-theft-norton-survey-11586245264537.html. [4] Margaret Rouse, identity theft, SEARCHSECURITY TECHTARGET, https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/identity-theft#:~:text=Identity%20theft%2C%20also%20known%20as,numbers%2C%20to%20impersonate%20someone%20else. [5] What is Criminal Identity Theft?, LIFELOCK, https://www.lifelock.com/learn-identity-theft-resources-what-is-criminal-identity-theft.html. [6] Julia Kagan, Synthetic Identity Theft, INVESTOPEDIA (Aug. 2, 2020), https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/synthetic-identity-theft.asp#:~:text=Synthetic%20identity%20theft%20is%20a,accounts%20and%20make%20fraudulent%20purchases. [7] Identity Theft Stimulus, Visit, http://www.idprotection.eu/identity-misuse/#:~:text=ID%20cloning,life%20in%20a%20different%20location. [8] Techniques Used by Identity Thieves, RETHINKING DEBT, https://www.rethinkingdebt.org/identity-theft-techniques. [9] Bill Fay, What is Identity Theft?, DEBT.ORG, https://www.debt.org/credit/identity-theft/. [10] Alison Grace Johansen, 4 Lasting Effects of Identity Theft, LIFELOCK, https://www.lifelock.com/learn-identity-theft-resources-lasting-effects-of-identity-theft.html#:~:text=Victims%20could%20blame%20themselves%20or,may%20experience%20feelings%20of%20helplessness.&text=69%20percent%20reported%20feelings%20of,60%20percent%20reported%20anxiety. [11[ Jeff Grey, IDENTITY THEFT: Overcoming the Emotional Impact, MERCER COUNTY SHERIFF, http://www.mercercountysheriff.org/Images/identitytheft/article6.pdf. [12] Identity Theft: The Aftermath 2016, ITRC, https://www.idtheftcenter.org/images/page-docs/AftermathFinal_2016.pdf [13] Audrey Thomas, 7 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft, SMEAD, https://www.smead.com/hot-topics/preventing-identity-theft-1377.asp#:~:text=Guard%20your%20Social%20Security%20number,ask%20if%20it's%20absolutely%20necessary. [14] Steve Symanovich, Identity Theft Insurance: What Is It and What Does It Cover? LIFELOCK, https://www.lifelock.com/learn-identity-theft-resources-identity-theft-insurance.html#:~:text=Identity%20theft%20insurance%20may%20help,theft%20insurance%20is%20worth%20considering.&text=Identity%20theft%20insurance%20offers%20some,steps%20to%20help%20protect%20yourself. [15] The Information Technology Act, 2000, No. 21, Acts of Parliament, 2000 (India). [16] SS Rana & Co, Cyber theft – A serious concern in India, LEXOLOGY (Mar. 4, 2019), https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=4af6c044-dc77-4b1a-9288-986395eff8d1#:~:text=Section%2066C%20provides%20for%20punishment,to%20three%20years%20and%20shall. [17] Gaurav Raj Grover, All You Need to Know About Identity Theft in Cyberspace in India, IPLEADERS (Sep. 30, 2019), https://blog.ipleaders.in/all-you-need-to-know-about-identity-theft-in-cyberspace-in-india/#:~:text=Section%2066%20B%20pertains%20to,by%20impersonation%20using%20computer%20resources. [18] National Association of Software and Service Companies v Ajay Sood and Ors., (2005) 119 DLT 596 (India).


Image Source: https://www.information-age.com/ripple-effect-identity-theft-what-happens-my-data-once-its-stolen-123459795/





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