Online Identity theft

Online identity theft is on the rise and it’s a serious threat. Online identity theft is not a new phenomenon to many Internet users. However, today, the Internet has given it a new lease of life. Every minute, thousands of individuals and even companies fall prey to these increasingly sophisticated cybercriminals and attackers. They use various techniques such as social engineering, phishing and devious modus operandi via the Internet targeting potential, innocent victims.

What is Online Identify theft?

Online identity theft is a serious crime, often aimed at obtaining the personal or financial information of another person. The obtained information is then used for personal gain, often by making purchases or selling someone’s identity or credit card details online to the highest bidder.

Where the pre-modern way of identity theft typically happened when people went through trash cans, looking for information or old bank statements, the modern way of identity theft happens online.

Hackers use various methods to access businesses or website databases and infect or hack an individual’s device in order to obtain sensitive information.

How Does Online Identity Theft Work?

Online identity theft is different from other types of identity thefts as it will not involve physical stealing of information but rather the victim may unwittingly hand over the information themselves to another party.

Digital identities that represent individuals on the Internet are made up of information that only the individuals themselves will know about. This can be anything, such as IP (Internet Protocol) address, the mailing address where a person lives, telephone numbers, usernames, passwords, PINs, birth dates, account numbers, and the list goes on.

Online applications are often used now due to convenience and its time-saving appeal. These applications need a user to key in his/her digital identity in an online form which will be saved in a particular database. If the fraudsters are able to access these digital identities, they can misuse it to commit various fraud activities in the victim’s name such as applying for loans or new credit card accounts in the victim’s name and then not paying the bills or impersonating victims on social networking websites. These fraudsters or cybercriminals can use the stolen digital identity in intrusions, unauthorized use of cheques or debit cards, or unauthorized electronic transfers from a victim’s bank account. They can even sell the stolen personal information in the underground economy or post the personal information publicly at online forums. A worst-case scenario, fraudsters commit crimes in the victim’s name and causes the victim to be answerable to law enforcement agencies and slapped with a criminal record.

The Most Common Methods of Online Identity Theft Scams

  • Phishing

A phishing scam is a tactic employed by hackers that involves sending emails to thousands of individuals with the purpose of tricking the recipients into performing an action.

Hackers could send phishing emails to random individuals, but it also happens that hackers target specific people in specific companies in order to gain access to company files.

A phishing email tricks the recipient into opening a file, which usually contains some type of malware or redirects the user to a look-alike website. When the victim enters their personal information, payment information and/or username and password combination, it falls straight into the hands of the hacker. The stolen information is then used to, for example, register credit card accounts under your name or the information is sold to interested third parties.

  • Pharming

Pharming works invisibly. The cybercriminals hijack the domain name server (DNS) of a commercial site and redirect visitor’s web requests to a fake site. Essentially, anyone who enters to the genuine web address will be taken to the identical but bogus website. If the appearance of the fake website looks exactly the same as the genuine site, the victim will enter his/her personal information without thinking twice.

  • Hacking

It’s highly possible to fall victim to identity theft at the hands of hackers. Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in your security systems and find their way into your computer or mobile phone. Another way to get their hands onto your information is to obtain access to your device by hacking the network you’re logged into.

  • Spyware

Online Identity theft can also happen when a person did not realize downloading the spyware. Spyware is hardly noticeable as it is usually bundled together with other freeware such as screen savers, image editing tools, smiley icons, etc. It can also be downloaded when the person is tricked into downloading a dangerous email attachment or when he/she visits a website that is infected with malicious codes. The program then collects personal information, such as credit card numbers and bank account numbers. This information will be sent to cybercriminals who use it to steal a person’s identity.

  •  Imposters

Imposters are people who hide their real identity and pretend to be someone else.

For example, people could hack into your social media account and impersonate you in order to trick people in your friend’s list to perform certain actions or provide personal details.

  • Social Networking Profiles

Social networking sites have become hot spots for cybercriminals to commit identity theft. The users may not realize how much information they provide to identity thieves unknowingly through their social networking profiles. Seemingly harmless personal information concerning their full names, partners, pets, mother’s name, schools they went to or birth dates, provide excellent clues for cybercriminals to figure out their passwords. Even sharing their experience of using online banking, gives cybercriminals information on the types of banking users indulge in or types of accounts users have. When all these pieces of seemingly harmless information are put together, cybercriminals are able to use social engineering tactics or phishing to steal identities.

  • Skimming

Skimming is a method used to steal credit or bank card details. The scammers manipulate an ATM machine, so when you use the ATM to withdraw cash, the device will read your credit or bank card information from the magnetic strip on the back of the card. The recorded information of the card is then transferred to the criminal’s storage device. This way, the scammer is able to make a copy of your card.

When the scammer has successfully copied your card, it will enable them to make online purchases or even withdraw money from an ATM machine in a different location. This usually happens just moments after you’ve been skimmed.

How to Protect Yourself from Online Identity Theft

By eliminating the vulnerabilities and being vigilant about protecting personal information, you can reduce the risks and dangers of being a victim to identity theft.

  • Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software and keep them updated with the latest security patches
  • Limit the information posted on the Internet
  • Conduct online transactions only at secure websites
  • Don’t be fooled by a spoofed website
  • Implement a strong password and keep it safe
  • Know who you invite into an online network
  • Read the web site’s privacy policy
  • Be careful with what you download or when opening email attachments
  • Be wary with wireless network
  • Get your browser updated

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