I always remember watching a sci-fi film a few years ago entitled “Star Trek: Nemesis”, where Captain Picard is cloned; in this case creating a criminal “double”. Implausible? Possibly not in the case of identity theft.
From ordering food, requesting a taxi and checking our bank accounts, to meeting new people and selling our unwanted items, more of our lives are spent online. And whilst these digital services have given us more convenience and a better customer experience, we are giving our personal data to an unlimited number of people and companies.
And we’ve lost track of the details we’ve given. After giving them to so many different people and companies, it’s hard to remember who we gave our details to, what information we gave or when we gave them. A terrifying thought when news of data breaches hit the headlines almost every day.
In 2022, there were 5.7 million reports of fraud and identity theft with consumers worldwide losing US$8.8 billion to identity theft alone. It is not just the initial loss, however; studies showed that victims spent an average of over six months and 200 hours trying to recover their identities.
Furthermore, having your identity stolen is an ordeal. Your bank account and credit score ratings are far from the only things that suffer. A traumatic event like this can also affect your relationship with family and friends. In an ITRC survey of identity theft victims, 45% of respondents said they didn’t get enough support from their family, while 65% said the same about their friends.
Identity theft and fraud
Identity fraud is something that occours when your name and personal information is used by someone else without your knowledge to obtain, goods, credit or other services fraudulently.
The number of consumers who have made purchases online increased to 2.64 billion in 2022, making up 33.3% of the world population. This is one of the main reasons identity theft numbers are in the millions.
Sharing payment information is the precursor to most identity theft incidents. According to statistics, the victims of online identity theft sprung from online shopping consumers after purchasing an item. However, 51% of consumers were targeted through phishing emails. This illustrates that online users should be wary of their personal information when shopping or purchasing, ensuring their data is safe from identity thieves. (Source: Globe Newswire)
Social media sites generate revenue with targeted advertising based on personal information. As such, they encourage registered users to provide as much information as possible. With limited government oversight, industry standards or incentives to educate users on security, privacy and identity protection, users are exposed to identity theft and fraud. Additionally, these platforms have an abundance of confidential user information, and are likely vulnerable to outside (or inside) attack.
A new report from Tessian.com, a human layer security company, has revealed that 84% of people post personal information to their social media accounts every week, with two-fifths (42%) posting every day, giving hackers the data they need to launch an attack. It reveals that half of people share names and pictures of their children, nearly three-quarters (72%) mention birthday celebrations, and 81% of workers update their job status on social media.
Hackers interviewed in the report explain how cybercriminals use social media posts to help identify their targets and craft highly targeted and convincing social engineering attacks. For example, with knowledge of who is within a person’s network, cybercriminals can easily impersonate someone their target trusts in order to manipulate them into wiring money or sharing information and account credentials.
How your identity can be stolen
There are many ways that someone can steal your identity, including: finding out your bank details; taking your passport or driving licence, or copying the details; copying your credit card details; accessing your personal information through a fraudulent website or email; taking junk mail that has your personal information on it and going through your dustbin to find receipts or other information. You may not know straight away that your identity has been stolen.
How to reduce the risk of identity fraud
Firstly, of course, is to be vigilant; be very cautious of anybody who contacts you unexpectedly (by phone or through email, etc.) and asks for personal information or account details even if they claim to be from the authorities or your bank. Ask for their name and contact number and then check with the organisation in question before calling back.
It is important to guard your credit cards. Minimise the number of cards you carry in your wallet. In particular, do not carry a written pin number with you. If you lose a card, contact the fraud division or emergency contact number of the relevant credit card company. Watch cashiers when you give them your card for a purchase and make sure you can see your credit card at all times.
Being safe online
If you use the internet, ensure you have the latest security patches and up-to-date anti-virus software installed. An excellent website, www.getsafeonline.org, offers advice on keeping your details private on social networks as well as other advice such as avoiding scams, phishing attacks, etc.
You can avoid the risks and enjoy social networking sites by following a few sensible guidelines in particular:
- Don’t let peer pressure or what other people are doing on these sites push you into doing something you’re not comfortable with. Just because other people post their mobile phone number or birthday, doesn’t mean you have to. Pick a username that doesn’t include any personal information. Use a strong password and not the same one for all websites.
- Use the privacy features on the site you use to restrict strangers’ access to your profile. Be guarded about who you let join your network. Remember what goes online stays online. Don’t say anything or publish pictures that might cause you embarrassment later.
More details on this can be found on our website www.safecommunitiesportugal.com
David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
In 2011, he founded Safe Communities Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal.
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