Identity Fraud in the Internet Age

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When the term ID theft was first coined in the 1960s, it meant simply to pretend to be someone else. Now, with the Internet creating a world of faceless interactions, identities can be both assumed and created.

Clone and conceal

One way the tech-savvy persona thieves are crafting new “lives” is by cloning the image of another, thus concealing him- or herself from the virtual world. These people may, for instance, steal profile pictures from unsuspecting connections on social media sites like Facebook. Once they have enough “evidence” they are real-world friends with a select individual, they then befriend others with a mutual connection. These new acquaintances are typically subject to fraudulent newsfeed, solicitations for donations, or other manipulations, usually garnered from heart-wrenching posts, playing off their sympathies.

Criminal ID theft

Criminal ID theft can begin online using the “clone and conceal” methods to capture another’s personal information, photos and other data. In these situations, the perpetrator uses the victim’s name, address and other credentials when arrested for an unrelated crime. This type of ID theft can have long-lasting effects on the individual whose name was cited in official criminal records and, in some cases, on the Internet.

Synthetic ID theft

The main victims of synthetic identity theft are typically financial institutions and retailers. This variation of identity fraud often combines a real person’s Social Security number with a fictitious name and birthdate. The person creating this new identity will usually apply for credit and, when granted, intentionally default on their payments. In some cases, the person whose Social Security number was used can have his or her credit negatively affected.

Child identity theft

A recent but growing problem is the practice of tarnishing a child’s as yet unused Social Security number to establish lines of credit to buy expensive items or obtain a fraudulent driver’s license. The biggest downside of child ID theft is that it can go undetected until a child becomes of age and begins to apply for credit on his or her own. A study by the Carnegie Mellon CyLab estimated that more than 10 percent of children are victims of ID theft.

Aside from using the Internet to obtain information, criminals may also rummage through personal rubbish in a practice known as dumpster diving, obtain public records in a completely legal fashion, or actually follow a person to observe his or her password, credit card information, or pin numbers. While there is no guarantee that any particular individual will not become a victim of identity theft, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission stresses that guardianship of personal information is the most effective intervention strategy.


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