Statistics say that identity theft is much more common now than it has ever been in the past. This is largely due to the advent and widespread use of the internet. However, identity theft did not begin over the internet.
Long before the internet was around, identity thieves could steal your identity through “dumpster diving”, or going through your trash to find personally identifying information on papers you had thrown out like bills and other documents.
They could also use phone scams to find out your personally identifying information. For example, an identity thief could phone someone and tell that person that she had won a prize and he (the thief) just needed some personal information like her birth date or social security number to verify her identity. The thief could then use this information in whatever way he chose.
Now, with the advent of the internet and other technology, identity theft has become more common, easier to perform, and safer to perform without getting caught.
The Rapid Growth of Identity Theft
Identity theft is widely considered to be the fastest growing crime in the world. The rapid growth of identity theft is due to multiple ways in which the ways we live our lives and process information have been changed. All of these changes make it easier for others to access our personally identifying information and ultimately take hole of our identities.
The internet has made transmission of our personally identifying information quick and easy, and sometimes less secure. We can access band and credit card accounts online, pay bills online, and shop and make credit card transactions online. All of these processes make things quicker and more convenient, but they also pose risks to our personal information.
Individuals can create spyware that is installed on our computers when we install freeware or other programs off the internet. This spyware can collect information about what sites we are going to, what passwords we are using, and what information we are transmitting, and then send it to someone else. This person can then use our personal information himself or sell it to someone else. Certain types of spyware called “Trojan horses” can even allow their inventors remote access to our computers and hard drives.
When we make online credit card transactions, online retailers store our contact and credit card information in databases we assume to be secure. Marketing agencies collect information on out spending habits as well as contact information and personal information. This is stored in databases we assume to be secure as well. However, malicious employees of these types of companies may have access to our information. They may be bribed to give out our information or they may even take this information for their own use or sell it to others.
Postal mail poses a threat as well. Credit card companies overflow customers and potential customers with pre-approved credit cards and courtesy checks meant to be used in place of the customer’s credit card. If this mail is not opened and destroyed (preferably using a shredder) properly, identity thieves can rummage though your trash and take your credit for their own use.
In the United States, social security numbers are also being used as a means of personal identification more commonly than in the past. And the more these valuable identifiers are used, the easier it is for someone to get a hold of yours and use it for himself.
This rapid rise in identity theft means that it is important to learn how to protect yourself from identity theft by adopting simple prevention habits. You don’t want to become a victim of identity theft yourself!