The contemporary society is characterized by massive technological advancement that not only provides access to advanced multimodal information but also eases people's jobs of storing such data. It also raises the issue of internet anonymity that gives suffers the power to hide their identities (Tajpour et al., 2013). With the increased use of anonymity in the internet cybercrimes such as child pornography, fraud, trafficking, privacy violation, and identity theft has increased dramatically. Identity theft encompasses the stealing or illegally obtaining the identification, personal, and financial information of a person without authorization and utilizing them for personal gain (Manap et al., 2015). According to the Identity Theft Act; US Public Law 105-318 and the Identity Theft Assumption and Deterrence Act of 1998 (ITADA), identity theft encompasses "the usage or transfer of any name or number that may be used to identify a specific individual with the intent to commit or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of Federal law, without the lawful authority" (Jougleux, 2012). Despite being a crime, identity thefts have consequently increased in modern society, taking different forms and configured using advanced and sophisticated methods. As the internet users increases in various social media platforms, their vulnerability, and affinity to internet identity theft increases. Therefore, understanding the nature, type, course, and legal jurisdictions could empower the modern populace across the globe to instigate viable prevention strategies.
Methods of Identity Theft in the Internet
The modern online fraudsters utilize high-tech strategies and methods to steal vital digital information such as credit card information, mails, or personal information that are sensitive (Manap et al., 2015). For instance, hackers use methods like phishing, which allow the cybercriminals to send a fake email purporting to be from the victims' financial providers or institutions like a bank asking for financial information such as credit card verification (Tajpour et al., 2013). Clicking and opening such unsolicited emails and providing the personal identity information gives the fraudsters full access and control of the victims' financial accounts. Moreover, strategies like pharming also are common, which uses a virus to compromise victims' browsers without their knowledge when they randomly type the legitimate URLs but are maliciously redirected to fake websites (Manap et al., 2015). It allows the cybercriminals to collects the personal information that a person types in such sites.
Additionally, cybercriminals, fraudsters, or identity thieves also use malicious software, tricking a victim into downloading malware, which consequently attacks the victim's computer or digital device, revealing all the store information in the device or computer (Jougleux, 2012). With the information age, individuals using weak passwords to secure sensitive information and keying details to access unsecure websites such as sites with no "https" prefix increases people's chances of becoming victims of identity theft (Tajpour et al., 2013). Unlike using websites with "https" prefix, sites with only "http" prefix not only retain information but also allow different cybercriminals to access, use, or compromise victim's data in their liking (Tajpour et al., 2013). Therefore, while many people do not understand how phishing, pharming, malicious software, weak passwords, and unsecure websites are and how they increase vulnerability to identity theft, online hijackers are actively taking advantage of the predominant computer ignorance to loot or expose people's sensitive information.
Types of Identity Theft in the Internet
Consequently, identity theft on the internet varies according to type and nature. While some cybercriminals aim at financial theft, some configure to use the stolen information to embarrass victims. Information like username, email address, passwords, phone numbers, credit card information, banking information, medical records, and social security numbers have become a goldmine to cybercriminals to instigate different types of identity theft (Jougleux, 2012). Since cybercriminals only focus on retrieving information available on digital computers and devices when a victim accesses them on the internet, it makes people vulnerable to identity theft such as financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, and medical identity theft (Hedayati, 2012). As such, holdups occur, victims often have limited or no knowledge of their occurrences until its too late.
Financial Identity Theft
Financial fraud, in which the cybercriminal steals the victim's personal information such as the Social Security Number to apply for online or telephone services like loans, credit cards, or purchases merchandise using victims' names (Manap et al., 2015). Since many people in the modern society trust their devices and use them to store vital financial information, cybercriminals efficiently use the phishing or malicious software to attack such devices when people are browsing to access and retrieve critical or sensitive financial statements (Jougleux, 2012). The financial identity theft allows the perpetrators to either open a new account in the victim's name or access the information of other accounts registered under the victim's name. Without knowledge of the victim, the cybercriminal gradually wipes the victim's account without being detected or with minimal to no repercussions.
Criminal Identity Theft
Moreover, criminal identity theft encompasses using a victim's personal information to misrepresent the facts of events falsely (Hedayati, 2012). It involves stealing a person's name, social security number, phone number, and other sensitive information and using then to conduct criminal activities (Hedayati, 2012). Whether caught or not, the real perpetrator of illegal activity often goes free while the authorities trace the victim's information, and the wrong person apprehended (Manap et al., 2015). For instance, stealing the sensitive information of an organization's manager or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and using them to coming company fraud, launder funds, or purloin money from the company. With no traceable track, the victims often get arrested and charged with felony despite having no clue or knowledge of how the crime occurred (Manap et al., 2015). Criminal identity theft accounts for stealing people's information on the internet and using them when caught by law-enforcement officers to conceal the real identity. Misrepresenting information, especially in online crime, has continuously led to the apprehension of wrong people.
Medical Identity Theft
Further, internet fraudsters also steal medical information from different victims. For instance, stealing insurance information, which is often available online, substantially gives the fraudsters or cybercriminals the ability to use the information to acquire free medical services (Hedayati, 2012). It not only allows fraudsters to use medical insurance information to access free medical treatment in different hospitals but also to file for claims from the victim's insurance providers. According to the Ponemon Institute, medical identity theft allows fraudsters to make massive unsubstantiated claims which often criminalize the victims (Hedayati, 2012). Apart from getting free quality treatment and prescriptions, some cybercriminals activities leave victims in unbearable medical bills and alter the victim's medical history, which can result in adverse health, social or economic consequences. Therefore, though hard to detect, internet identity theft gives cyber criminals access to a sensitive part of a victim's life, with medical records exposed, it can be tarnished and compromised.
Hedayati, A. (2012). An analysis of identity theft: Motives, related frauds, techniques, and prevention. Journal of law and conflict resolution, 4(1), 1-12. https://academicjournals.org/article/article1379859409_Hedayati.pdf
Jougleux, P. (2012). Identity theft and the internet. International journal of liability and scientific inquiry, 5(1), 37-45. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264437434_Identity_theft_and_internet
Manap, N. A., Rahim, A. A., & Taji, H. (2015). Cyberspace identity theft: The conceptual framework. Mediterranean journal of social sciences, 6(4), 595. DOI: 10.5901/mjss.2015.v6n4s3p595
Tajpour, A., Ibrahim, S., & Zamani, M. (2013). Identity theft methods and fraud types. IJIPM: International journal of information processing and management, 4(7), 51-58. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Atefeh_Tajpour/publication/273259976_Identity_Theft_and_Fraud_Type/links/5527c9fa0cf2e089a3a1d3b3.pdf
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