Identity theft crime
In today’s world that is defined by advancement in technology and increase in impersonal electronic transactions, identity theft has become prevalent. As such, policy makers continue to be concerned with securing people and organizations by combating crimes that threaten their financial stability such as identity theft that poses both economic and security risks. The main objective of this research is to explore identity theft in terms of how it occurs, what methods or techniques are used by offenders to commit identity theft crimes or frauds, what makes it possible for people to fall victims to identity theft, the consequences of identity theft on victims and strategies of preventing and curbing identity theft.
Keywords: identity theft, Internet, prevention, transactions, financial.
The is widespread agreement that identity theft causes significant financial damage to retail establishments, creditors, consumers, financial institutions and the economy as a whole. According to the Federal Trade Commission, identity theft is the fastest growing white collar crime not only in the United States but also in other nations. As a result, various state and federal governments have implemented discordant laws to curb the incidence of identity theft, as well as, its severity. In as much as the methods or techniques used by offenders to commit identity theft crimes or frauds are often known and measures taken to prevent their occurrence, it is the unknown as aspects of identity theft that tend to cause more damage. For instance, there is minimal information regarding the relative rates of novel account fraud and account take over, prevalence of identity theft or the impact of identity theft on the economy. Moreover, the formulation and prevalence of synthetic identity theft has made these unknown aspects of identity theft even more difficult to measure. The known methods utilized by offenders to commit identity theft and the unknown aspects of identity theft present various critical problems.
They not only hinder attempts to assess the scope of the crime but also hamper efforts towards allocating appropriate law enforcement resources to tackle identity theft more efficiently. In addition, they prevent individuals and institutions from determining whether various consumer protection interventions have been effective to curbing identity theft. Because of these obstacles accentuated by the unknown aspects of identity theft, it is difficult to tell whether regulator, companies and consumers are under or over reacting to identity theft, as well as, how the costs are distributed in the society. This raises the question whether policy maker, law enforcement agencies, companies and the public are capable of measuring the crime effectively and implementing appropriate measures to curb and prevent the crime. As such, this research paper will evaluate whether the answer to this question lies in the methods utilized to determine and assess the methods used by offenders to carry out identity theft, the prevalence of the crime, as well as, its impact on individuals, companies and the economy as a whole.
Given that numerous surveys and studies have been conducted with the aim of deciphering how identity theft occurs and how it can be prevented or mitigated, this research paper will explore the various scholarly articles and reports so as to determine how to better respond to this crime. It is imperative to not that most of the surveys and studies have been conducted with the main subjects or respondents being the victims of identity theft. Nonetheless, victims of identity theft tend to have the most limited perspective of the crime since they are normally incapable of explaining how personal data was stolen let alone identify the person who stole their information. Financial institutions are better poised to monitor and report on identity theft. As such, if organizations and lenders who control access to personal accounts such as Western Union and PayPal were required to avail statistics about identity theft, it would be possible to paint a more detailed and comprehensive picture of identity theft. Therefore, this research paper will explore whether obtaining information regarding identity theft from lenders and organizations is better than acquiring the same information from victims even though organizations and lenders normally refrain from making these data public given that they can cause embarrassment and warrant unwanted regulatory attention.
In this regard, this research paper will explore identity theft in terms of how it occurs, what methods or techniques are used by offenders to commit identity theft crimes or frauds, what makes it possible for people to fall victims to identity theft, the consequences of identity theft on victims and strategies of preventing and curbing identity theft.
This research will draw from the information and statistics provided by studies conducted by other scholars and surveys carried out by various institutions such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States so as to determine how identity theft is perpetrated by offenders, its extent, trends and issues relating to identity theft, as well as, ways of mitigating or preventing identity theft.
Copes, Kerley, Huff and John Kane (2010) assert that despite the immense attention placed on identity theft, there is still confusion regarding the best definition of this crime and the best technique or method of evaluating identity theft. Numerous recent efforts by institutions and researchers to evaluate the extent of identity theft through surveys have produced different outcomes especially in the types of crimes categorized as identity theft. For instance, some studies contemplate credit fraud to be identity theft while other studies are of the opinion that credit fraud is not a form of identity theft. In this regard, the inconsistency in data collection and studies on issues regarding identity theft has made it difficult to properly determine the extent of the crime. However, based on the comparison of the profiles of the victims of new credit card fraud, existing bank account fraud and existing credit card fraud conducted by Copes, Kerley, Huff and John Kane (2010), the authors found that considering existing credit card fraud as an identity theft measure may obscure the fact that those who are black, female, young and low income victims are disproportionately victimized by existing bank account fraud which is contemplated as the most damaging form of identity theft.
Building on the argument by Copes, Kerley, Huff and John Kane (2010) that there is still confusion regarding the best definition of identity theft and the best technique or method of evaluating this crime, Hoofnagle (2007) reiterates that those tasked with preventing identity theft, that is, policymakers and the pubic have limited information about the forms, scope and extent of identity theft. This lack of sufficient information prevents pertinent stakeholders from evaluating the extent of identity theft and providing appropriate responses. Moreover, misperceptions about identity theft have continued to prevail and manifest because assessments of identity theft have for the most part been based on public surveys which are usually sponsored by financial institutions. However, Hoofnagle (2007) believes that this approach is both under and over inclusive in evaluating the prevalence of identity theft. As a result, Hoofnagle (2007) suggests a different approach that involves that requires lenders and organizations that control access to personal accounts to avail regular public reports regarding the different occurrence, as well as, prevalence of identity theft. These reports by organizations and lenders will go a long way in helping the public discern identity theft and foster the ability of policymakers to create and implement preventive measures that are coherent to the methods and magnitude of identity theft.
The study conducted by Manap, Rahim and Taji (2015) reveals that the globalization and advancement in technology in the current era has made it possible for crimes to be carried out by offenders through the Internet. Crimes conducted through the Internet have become quite prevalent that they have drawn the attention of governments, media and the public. In spite of other studies conducted on identity theft Manap, Rahim and Taji (2015) maintain that cyberspace identity theft is complex and its intricate nature has made it difficult for researchers to have a clear definition of cyberspace identity theft let alone define its limits. Nonetheless, Manap, Rahim and Taji (2015) identify key cyberspace identity theft crimes such as synthetic identity theft, medical identity theft, financial identity theft, criminal identity theft, as well as, concealment, child identity theft and identity cloning. More specific methods of conducting online crime identified by identity cloning include vishing, utilizing malware to gain access to individuals’ identifying information, smiShing, preying on people through social media platforms, pharming, hacking, phishing and fake job advertisements. Albeit Manap, Rahim and Taji (2015) do not provide a definite definition of cyberspace identity theft, they provide the key motives for this crime, for instance, utilizing victims’ personal information to compromise medical insurance and credit card payment system, open new bank accounts or take over existing ones and facilitate unauthorized immigration and terrorism. However, it is vital to note that cyberspace identity theft is not always motivated by criminal purposes or objectives. Sometimes, offenders just want to have fun or seek fame (Manap, Rahim and Taji, 2015).
When it comes to the techniques, motives and prevention of identity theft, as well as, related fraud, Hedayati (2012) found that the different types of frauds that are unique to identity theft include medical fraud, identity fraud, resume fraud, financial fraud, mortgage fraud, tax fraud, as well as, organized crimes such as money laundering, terrorism and illegal immigration. Moreover, Hedayati (2012) outlines the discordant ways through which offenders attack organizations and consumers by stealing their identity in the form of mail theft and insider theft which are otherwise considered as physical forms of identity theft. Companies worldwide incorporate protective measures when it comes to financial transactions supported by their systems. However, Hedayati (2012) reiterates that despite the efficiencies of new technology in terms of securing personal information and facilitating payment, more than seventy percent of identity theft incidents are perpetrated by insiders. As such, consumers and organizations are cautioned against relying solely on technology to secure their data from identity theft given that identity theft also occurs frequently through insiders who can manipulate the technology through phishing and social engineering to steal personal information. Moreover, companies should make a point of sensitizing their consumers and employees about identity theft through public and organizational training since the offender normally bypass security systems by exploiting human elements.
The statistics given by Revere Bank (2016) affirm the point that identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the world with more than 11.7 million incidents being reported per year and people and companies losing more than $1.6 billion in the United States alone based on the data provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Revere Bank (2016) evaluated the discordant warning signs of identity theft that organizations and people can look out for, immediate actions that they can undertake when they become victims of identity theft, as well as, ways through which they can protect themselves from identity theft. However, Revere Bank (2016) mentions that in as much as there are immediate actions that organizations and people can take when they become victims of identity theft and various ways through which they can protect themselves from this crime, the process of recovering from identity theft can be protracted and time-consuming and identity theft also targets both people and their businesses. Thus, it is important to implement measures that protect every aspect of a person, that is, personal account held by the person, as well as, business account belonging to him or her so as to avoid falling victims of identity theft on twofold fronts.
A sensitive channel that offenders use to steal the identity of people and organizations is medical records. According to the research conducted by Foley (2017), close to nine million patient health records were breached in 164 reported incidents in 2014 and by March 2015, the reported incidents had increased tenfold to the point where it is estimated that one in three health records were subject to compromise and fraud in 2016 alone. Criminals can physically steal medical records from medical facilities. Notwithstanding, with the prevalence of health IT systems in many health facilities, focus on cybersecurity is not sufficient to avert identity theft (Foley, 2017). An inclusive security system protecting the personal data of people is extremely vital in eradicating the increasing incidents of medial identity theft. In this regard, health systems must implement a 360-degree risk mitigation strategy to prevent identity theft and any other potential security breaches. Foley (2017) suggests that health institutions or facilities need to invest in formidable health IT so as to ensure that the patients are not vulnerable to the costly risks of medical identity theft. Moreover, the acquired technology must support identity-proofing across various healthcare settings. A good example of a health IT system with such features is one that contains a unique health safety identifier (UHSI) as the initial step in strengthening the IT security responsible for saving the money of health facilities and patients and preserving data integrity.
Another sensitive avenue that offenders exploit is child identity theft. As Betz (2012) states, cases of child identity theft are incessantly rising, with incidents of child identity theft increasing more quickly than other types of identity theft. Betz (2012) further states that child identity can occur in the form of financial, medical and character-related identity theft and it is usually the parents that are found as the most common perpetrators of this crime. Betz (2012) brings to light two victims that are unique to child identity theft, that is, child victims and adult/child victims with the themes evident in adult/child victims being adverse emotional impacts such as anger and fear, lack of support from law enforcement, families, and other relevant agencies accorded to victims, as well as, parents as the perpetrators.
Perhaps the most utilized avenue for identity theft is social networking platforms. The research conducted by Holm (2014) revealed that sharing personal identification information and details such as age, address, sex and other personal information like pictures can aid identity theft perpetrators in establishing a similar but different identity to that person. As Holm (2014) states, usually identity theft offenders take advantage of social network users by focusing on their weaknesses in terms of gaps or loopholes which they exploit to collect the information they require to commit identity theft and consequently identity fraud utilizing the personal identification information they gathered. However, there are various mechanisms that organizations and individuals can use to prevent or avert identity theft given that sharing information on various social networking sites is a voluntary exercised and this makes it difficult to control who sees it or who uses that information.
According to Lindberg (2011), some of the strategies that people and organizations can use to prevent identity theft include fostering transaction security awareness and inter-agency collaboration. However, the implementation and success of such strategies in curbing identity theft are hindered by various factors. For instance, despite the warnings and awareness regarding identity theft, most peoples still end up not applying these protective measures until they fall victims to identity theft and begin to realize the importance of these strategies. Another obstacle is that offenders are not just motivated by financial gains when perpetrating identity theft. They can also steal people’s identities for the purposes of obtaining work permits, hiding their identities so as to evade the law, participating in terrorist plots or in order to take part in federally funded social programs. As such, the prevalence of motives makes it difficult for individuals, organizations and nations to the implement the appropriate protective measures against every kind of identity theft. Lindberg (2011) also brings to light the high cost of research and apprehending offenders that hinders the effective protection of people, organizations and states from identity theft, particularly when consumers, companies and nations are implementing budget cuts. The late realization of identity theft by victims is also an obstacle to effective protection against identity theft Lindberg (2011).
The fact that people, especially in the United States utilize their social security numbers in almost every vital document in both the public and private sectors is also a hindrance to the prevention of identity theft as Finklea (2014) states. Based on this understanding, Anderson, Durbin and Salinger (2008) are of the opinion that the challenge lies in the ability of governments to formulate and enact policies that strike the right balance by allowing access to information by people who have a legitimate use for it and not placing considerable burden on legitimate uses of this personal information while providing incentives for companies, consumers and institutions to exercise care to prevent abuse and illicit utilization of this information through fraudulent transactions and identity theft.
The research methodology will involve the utilization of qualitative research design. Data will be collected from primary sources and secondary sources. The primary source of data will be surveys undertaken by people, that is, victims of identity theft, as well as, surveys undertaken by companies, organizations or institutions that have reported incidents of identity theft. The secondary source of data will be from articles, journals and books about identity theft written by various scholars, as well as, reports and statistics on identity theft provided by institutions. The sample for the survey in this research will involve twenty people or victims of identity theft and five organizations that have reported incidents of identity theft.
Based on the surveys undertaken by discordant victims of identity theft and companies who have reported incidents of identity theft or experienced identity theft attempts, the results or findings will determine the various motives of identity theft, ways through which identity theft occurs, impacts of identity theft on victims and how people and organizations can prevent identity theft. Unfortunately, when utilizing official data such citizen complaints, police records, company reports on identity theft attempts, a research must appreciate the sensitive nature of the information.
Statement of Limitations
Sampling for this research is wide since the topic or subject of study is not narrow, that is, it does not explore one type of identity theft; instead, this research focuses on all types of identity theft. Moreover, there are numerous scholarly studies on this topic so much so that narrowing the pertinent articles, journals and books requires additional investigation.
The results or findings of research will be discussed based on motives of identity theft, ways through which identity theft occurs, impacts of identity theft on victims and how people and organizations can prevent identity theft. Based on this understanding, this research will prove vital in providing prominent information on how people, that is, consumers and organizations can protect themselves from identity theft.
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Anderson, Keith B., Erik Durbin, and Michael A. Salinger. 2008. “Identity Theft”. Journal Of Economic Perspectives 22 (2): 171-192. https://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.22.2.171.
Betz, Axton. 2012. “The Experiences Of Adult/Child Identity Theft Victims”. Graduate Theses And Dissertations. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=3764&context=etd.
Copes, Heith, Kent R. Kerley, Rodney Huff, and John Kane. 2010. “Differentiating Identity Theft: An Exploratory Study Of Victims Using A National Victimization Survey”. Journal Of Criminal Justice 38 (5): 1045-1052. doi:10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2010.07.007.
Finklea, Kristin. 2014. “Identity Theft: Trends And Issues”. Congressional Research Service. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40599.pdf.
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Hedayati, Ali. 2012. “An Analysis Of Identity Theft: Motives, Related Frauds, Techniques And Prevention”. Journal Of Law And Conflict Resolution 4 (1): 1-12. doi:10.5897/JLCR11.044.
Holm, Eric. 2014. “Social Networking And Identity Theft In The Digital Society”. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9d32/5968f70c593436efca6cfc32708a838cbf55.pdf.
Hoofnagle, Chris Jay. 2007. “IDENTITY THEFT: MAKING THE KNOWN UNKNOWNS KNOWN”. Harvard Journal Of Law & Technology 21: 98-122. http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/articles/pdf/v21/21HarvJLTech097.pdf.
Lindberg, Debra. 2011. “Prevention Of Identity Theft: A Review Of The Literature”. https://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=ccj_capstone.
Revere Bank. 2016. “Identity Theft: Detection, Recovery And Prevention – Revere Bank”. Revere Bank. https://www.reverebank.com/identity-theft-detection-recovery-and-prevention/.