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Identity Theft – Cause, Prevention, and Effect

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Essay title: Identity Theft – Cause, Prevention, and Effect



A major growing problem within the United States is identity theft. Identity theft is the stealing and use of someone's personal information used primarily for monetary gain. I will elaborate on how identity theft occurs and I will describe what criminals can do with the information they obtain. I will also explain some of the prevention plans that companies have put into place to protect themselves and discuss how individuals can protect themselves as well. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that ten million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2002. 27.3 million Americans have been victims of some form of identity theft from 1998 to 2003. In 2004, merchandise and services obtained by identity theft perpetrators exceeded $52 billion. Identity theft is currently the fastest growing crime according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (Hamilton, Trethewey, Urrico)


A criminal can obtain personal information on another person in many ways. "Dumpster Diving" is a method perpetrators use by going through a person's garbage, communal dumpsters, or trash bins. These criminals can obtain copies of checks, credit card statements, bank statements, receipts, and carbons. The criminal will search for anything bearing your name, address, telephone number, and social security number. (Collins)

Another way identity thieves can obtain information is through "Shoulder Surfing". This is a method perpetrators use by looking over an individual's shoulder while in a checkout lane and memorizing the information on a check or a credit card. The perpetrator can also get calling card information or credit card information by looking over the shoulder of a person on a public telephone or just by eavesdropping if someone is giving their credit card information over the phone. (Hamilton)

"Skimming" is another way for information to be obtained. There are different types of skimming. A waiter at a restaurant may take a person's credit card to process their bill and then make a copy of the card. A store clerk can copy a credit/ debit card number from the carbon that the store keeps from a person's receipt. Also, skimming can occur when a criminal attaches a small skimmer device to an ATM machine and when the individual slides their card through, it records the magnetic stripe details. (Credit Card, Hamilton)

The internet has become an appealing place for criminals to obtain personal data. The novelty of the internet encourages people to explore. They often respond to unsolicitated emails that promise them something but require personal data from the person to process the request. In most cases, there is no intention of giving out anything. Today, half of all credit card fraud is conducted on-line. (DOJ)

"Phishing" is yet another method to obtain someone else's personal data. Phishing is the act of emailing a person and stating there is a problem with their account, then requesting personal information so the problem can be corrected. A new phishing scam that banks must face, which is hard to identify, is when a bank customer opens an email or even deletes the email without clicking on any embedded links, there is an program attached to the email by the criminal who silently runs a script. When the banking customer logs onto there bank website the code redirects the person to a fraudulent web site. (Federal Trade Commission, Ramsaran)

"Pretexting" is the act of calling a victim on the phone and stating they have a problem with their account and they need to verify information to fix the problem. (Federal Trade Commission)

"Spoofing" is when an individual receives fake email messages from a recognizable company requesting an update on their information. The website is hyper-linked and when accessed the criminal is able to obtain the individuals logon and password. (Urrico)

"Pharming" is a technique criminals use by setting up a phony web server and intercepting user names and PIN numbers. (Urrico)

Perpetrators can also obtain personal information by bribing employees who have access to personal records, stealing records while on the job, conning information out of employees, hacking personal records, stealing your wallet or purse, or stealing from your home. (Collins, Federal Trade Commission)

Criminals can also pose as a legitimate business and buy personal information from companies that collect personal data to be sold for verification purposes such as a background check

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