Who stole my identity?

Who stole my identity?

She was on the phone talking to her grand-daughter when the message notification showed up: Rs 48,200 had been swiped on her credit card. But how? Vinita had been home all day and the card was safe in her purse. After many phone calls and emails to the customer care, she managed to ‘hot list’ her card. But she still has no idea how someone could have got her credit card details. “I just hope I don’t have to pay the amount,” she says.

If it hasn’t happened to you, identity theft may sound like an idle threat. But with cyber crimes growing as a silent epidemic across the world, your chance of being a victim is very real. According to a report released by security firm
Symantec, India is among the top five countries that record the highest number of cyber crime cases.

“The number of FIRs being filed for cyber crime is doubling every year. As per the official report of National Crime Records Bureau, the number of registered cyber crime cases filed in 2013 was 5,693 as against 420 in 2009,” says Rakshit Tandon, advisor/investigation expert, cyber crime unit of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.  Identity theft is more than just a hassle. It bears serious consequences for your financial as well as personal life. Your
personal information such as bank account details, plastic card details, address and contact information is compromised when a hacker steals your identity. “Although monetary gain is one of the primary motivations for such attacks, it’s also used to cause disrepute, disrupt business procedures and financial losses to the victims,” informs Rakshit.

Identity theft can turn a once-stable life into a nightmarish mess. While financial problems that stem from the theft are the most devastating, there are also life-changing effects like criminal consequences and the emotional toll that it can take on one’s life. Straightening up the mess could take several years.

Madhur Patel, a government officer from Gujarat, received an email requesting him to enter all the bank details to update his account information. He did so, without suspecting any foul play. Soon, he lost close to nine lakh rupees. Arpita Chandru’s ex-fiance hacked into her social networking site account and sent defamatory posts to all her contacts; it caused irreparable damage to her reputation among her circle of family,
co-workers and friends.

When you are careless about how you manage and share sensitive information with the world, either in person, over the phone or online, you could be asking for trouble. Although criminals use different methods to skim information, there are two primary ways in which they exploit victims.

Online ways
Hacking has become more common with criminals breaking into computer systems or networks to steal personal data.

Malware emails reach your inbox with the intention of harming your device or stealing information.

Unsolicited emails could contain a virus, trojan horses, keystroke loggers, spyware, worms, rootkits or screen-scrapers that are designed to extract critical information.

Phishing is when thieves impersonate a legitimate business through email or websites to lay hands on your personal information like PAN number, bank account numbers, PINs and passwords.

Similar to phishing, in smishing cellphones are targeted by sending fake text messages, directing you to call a phone number.

When you make a transaction on a website that is a duplicate for a trusted online site, it’s easy for someone to get hold of your details.

Offline ways
In vishing, fraudsters use VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), voice mail, landline and cell phones to fake a bank or business call. The victim is then tricked into disclosing personal information.

Data breach occurs when unauthorised identities steal confidential information that is either on paper or computer from a bank or business entity.

There are scammers who snoop in your trash for bank or credit card statements, address, telephone number, email address, PAN number and other such details.

You give a breezy access to your driver’s license, address, credit and other financial information when you lose your wallet.

A shoulder-surfer looks into your personal details when you are filling out a form. It’s a lot easier with the prevalence of smartphones with hi-tech cameras, where they take a picture without your knowledge and misuse it later.

Criminals can divert all your bank statements and credit card/account offers to another location by filing for a change of address.

Warning signs
Here are some telltale signs of identity theft:

You spot errors or bills for goods that you didn’t purchase on your credit/debit card statements/credit report.

You receive calls from the bank alerting you on irregularities on your account such as an outstanding loan or your low bank balance.

You receive medical bills for treatments that you never underwent.

You stop receiving bank statements.

You receive notification on a loan or credit/debit card approval that you never applied for.

You’re unable to login into your email or any online account.

You receive a traffic violation notice for an offence that you didn’t commit.

Prudence pays
Shred all sensitive documents like addressed envelopes, credit card statements, credit reports, expired credit/debit cards. Similarly, wipe off all data on your smartphone or computer, if you decide to get rid of it.

Never swipe your card, if the ATM looks tampered with. When you’re eating out, ask for portable card terminals that the waiter can bring to you or go up to the billing desk to swipe the card. 

Be alert when anybody asks you to provide your bank or other security information, even if the caller is from the bank or agency.

Keep your smartphone and computer updated with antivirus.

Download only authorised apps for your smartphones.

When you have to share personal information online, check if the page is secure with an “https” URL.

At home, install a firewall that blocks trespassers from accessing your information. Use virus and security software and update them often.

Avoid carrying your PAN card with you and downsize your wallet to one/two credit/debit cards. Have a copy of the details of your cards as it can come in handy, if and when you need to freeze the account.

Go in for a reliable id theft insurance that will cover loss or accountability that may arise as a result of an identity theft.

(Some names have been changed to protect identity.)

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