The legal definition of “identity theft” varies significantly in the legislative framework of each country. However, the term often is used to describe that an individualís personal information —such as financial, health or identifiable information— has been collected and used without his consent and with the purpose to commit fraudulent activities. Identity theft usually involves the adoption of a personís identity such as his name, date of birth, address, license and social security numbers, banking and credit card numbers, usernames and passwords.
The most common types of identity theft are: (i) Financial, which consist of a person using the information of an individual to apply for credit cards, loans, buy goods, contract services or for leasing properties; (ii) Criminal, whereby the criminal uses an individualís personal information and false identities to defraud third parties; (iii) Business or Commercial, which usually involves the criminal to apply for credit cards, make electronic fund transfers or use checking and banking account on behalf of a company.
The vehicles and schemes used by perpetrators to commit identity theft are numerous, they can include inter alia: social engineering techniques, spam, phishing and brand spoofing e-mails, spyware, computer hijacking, fraudulent letters (Nigerian Letters), telephone calls and faxes and even making use of information found in dumpsters.
Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in North America with the United States reporting the highest numbers of cases. Nearly 10 million American citizens fall victim every year. The Identity Theft Resource Center reports that ID theft victims spend an average of USD $1,400 and 600 hours to restore their credit histories and reputation. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that the cost of identity theft to business approaches to nearly USD $50 billion annually, and to consumers an additional $5 billion per year.
In the United Kingdom, the Home Office Identity Fraud Steering Committee estimates that more than 100,000 people are affected by identity theft each year, costing the British economy over £1.3 billion annually.
Identity theft is one of the principal threats of the Internet because victims of these schemes, usually do not get their money back and worse yet, they can spend months or even years cleaning up their personal and credit history the thieves have made of their names and credit records, in addition that it causes damages to its reputation and undermines consumer trust on the Internet.
Due to the difficulty and the burdensome cost that it represents to track criminals and Internet con-artists for law enforcement authorities, the best mechanisms to avoid identity theft are through education and prevention methods like for example, being well informed and inform family members, relatives and friends about the dangers of this crime and increase awareness in our local community.
When a consumer suspects that he has been a victim of identity theft, he should take action immediately by contacting the financial institution, the credit company and request to put an “alert fraud” on his file and the closing and cancellation of the accounts that have been subject of fraud, as well as filing a complaint with the local consumer protection agency. These measures will help prevent the thieve from making further use of the victimís credit identity, make the process of restoring the victimís credit standing less burdensome and encourage authorities to pursue the case more effectively. And very important, never give your personal information to anyone over the telephone or the Internet unless you know that you are speaking to a true company representative.
NACPEC has created this section with the purpose to provide our visitors with relevant sources of information, documents, legislation, international organizations, government agencies, partnership websites, financial, business and consumer organizations, academic and professional publications, and other relevant information sources on identity theft.