Internet Frauds and Scams - Part VII Identity Theft

The advent of Internet in 90's has spawned a new variety of crooks called identity thieves. Their stock in trade is your everyday transaction.

We execute many transactions in the course of a busy day. You may write a cheque at nearby consumer store, pay restaurant bill through credit card, post your resume for a job, order a new cheque book, apply for a mobile telephone connection or credit card. We seldom pay any attention to these transactions - but beware, someone else may.

All these transactions require you to share your personal information with another party - your name, address, place of employment, credit card number, PAN number, bank account number, telephone number, your income etc.

An identity thief collects such pieces of your personal information and appropriates it without your knowledge to commit fraud or theft.

Identity theft is a serious crime in more developed countries where misrepresentation of credit record or social security number can wreck havoc. However, it is no less a threat in India or South Asian countries either.

How the Identity thieves work

An identity thief can be very creative and do innumerable mischief using your personal information. Here are a few examples:

  • identity thief uses photocopy of your passport or ration card to obtain mobile connection in your name. (there are several such cases pending with Delhi Police)

  • The thieves open a new bank account - using your name, date of birth, PAN number etc. and use it for fraudulent purposes.

  • The identity thief takes a car loan in your name

  • They call your credit card issuer and, pretending to be you, change the mailing address on your credit card account. The imposter then purchases goods from Internet stores using your credit card information. As your bills are being sent to the new address, you may not immediately realize there's a problem.

  • You have just got a credit card, may be for the first time in your life, and have not yet signed at the back of the card (something you should do immediately on receipt of a new credit card). A man, claiming to be from credit card issuing bank, says the card has some defect and needs replacement. You hand over the card to him. The imposter puts his own signature at the back and starts his shopping binge.

  • You receive an e-mail request, presumably from your Internet Service Provider (ISP) stating that your "account information needs to be updated" or that "the credit card you signed up with is invalid or expired and the information needs to be re-entered to keep your account active". This could be a scam to get your user-id and password. The identity thief changes the password and start using your Internet account. What is worse

  • apart from losing money, you may face legal suit in case the identity thief commits criminal act using your mail account


How identity thieves get your personal information

Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods - low- and hi-tech - to gain access to your data. Here are some of the ways imposters can get your personal information and take over your identity.

  • Get a copy of your ration card from local ration shop

  • Get your credit card information from unscrupulous restaurant employees

  • Steal your wallet containing identification and credit / ATM cards.

  • Steal your mail - including your bank and credit card statements, income tax information etc.

  • Complete a "change of address form" to divert your mail to another location.

  • Rummage through your wastepaper basket for personal data.

  • Fraudulently obtain your credit report by posing as a landlord, employer or someone else who may have a legitimate need for and a legal right to - the information.

  • Get your business or personnel records at work

  • Find personal information in your home.

  • Personal information you share on the Internet. - Buy your personal information from "inside" sources. For example, an identity thief may pay a store employee to obtain your credit card details.

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Source: FAIDA - Newsletter on Business Opportunties from India and Abroad Vol: 3, Issue 44 February 27' 2003

Author : Dr. Amit K. Chatterjee
(Amit worked in blue-chip Indian and MNCs for 15 years in various capacities like Research and Information Analysis, Market Development, MIS, R&D Information Systems etc. before starting his e-commerce venture in 1997. The views expressed in this columns are of his own. He may be reached at )

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