identity theft


Written By: Ehsan Jahandarpour

Identity theft is a form of stealing someone’s identity in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person’s identity, usually as a method to gain access to resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person’s name. The victim of identity theft (here meaning the person whose identity has been assumed by the identity thief) can suffer adverse consequences if they are held responsible for the perpetrator’s actions. Identity theft occurs when someone uses another’s personally identifying information, like their name, identifying number, or credit card number, without their permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. The term identity theft was coined in 1964; however, it is not literally possible to steal an identity — less ambiguous terms are identity fraud or impersonation — terms which tend less toward emplacement of onus upon the impersonated person and which tend more toward emplacement properly of the onus upon the victim and the perpetrator of fraud. “Determining the link between data breaches and identity theft is challenging, primarily because identity theft victims often do not know how their personal information was obtained,” and identity theft is not always detectable by the individual victims, according to a report done for the FTC. Identity fraud is often but not necessarily the consequence of identity theft. Someone can steal or misappropriate personal information without then committing identity theft using the information about every person, such as when a major data breach occurs. A US Government Accountability Office study determined that “most breaches have not resulted in detected incidents of identity theft”. The report also warned that “the full extent is unknown”. A later unpublished study by Carnegie Mellon University noted that “Most often, the causes of identity theft is not known,” but reported that someone else concluded that “the probability of becoming a victim to identity theft as a result of a data breach is … around only 2%”. More recently, an association of consumer data companies noted that one of the largest data breaches ever, accounting for over four million records, resulted in only about 1,800 instances of identity theft, according to the company whose systems were breached. An October 2010 article entitled “Cyber Crime Made Easy” explained the level to which hackers are using malicious software. As one security specialist named Gunter Ollmann said, “Interested in credit card theft? There’s an app for that.” This statement summed up the ease with which these hackers are accessing all kinds of information online. The new program for infecting users’ computers is called Zeus; and the program is so hacker friendly that even an inexperienced hacker can operate it. Although the hacking program is easy to use, that fact does not diminish the devastating effects that Zeus (or other software like Zeus) can do to a computer and the user. For example, the article stated that programs like Zeus can steal credit card information, important documents, and even documents necessary for homeland security. If the hacker were to gain this information, it would mean identity theft or even a possible terrorist attack.