Identity Theft Using the Knowledge of Computer Thesis

Pages: 8 (2712 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Education - Computers

Identity Theft

Using the knowledge of computer technology to commit various illegal acts has risen over the years. Earlier, computer crime was just a white-collar crime committed by insiders in a computer system. However, with the advances in telecommunications and information technology, the range and extent of such crimes has also advanced. Nowadays, computer crime encompasses any kind of offense which involves the active or passive use of computers. This includes illegal manipulation of data, thefts of software or hardware, using a telephone to illegally access a computer system, accessing sensitive data using a "hacking program," and so on. (McEwen; Fester; Nugent, et. al. 1989)

Computer crimes can be grouped under five categories, viz. internal computer crimes like viruses, Trojan horses, trap doors, logic bombs, telecommunications crime such as hacking, phreaking, misuses of telephone systems, illegal bulletin boards, computer manipulation crimes such as frauds and embezzlements, support of criminal enterprises like databases to record client information, databases to support drug distributions, and hardware or software thefts such as thefts of microprocessor chips, thefts of computers, software piracy and thefts of trade secrets. (McEwen; Fester; Nugent, et. al. 1989) Other additions to this growing list of computer crimes are phishing, cyber-stalking and identity theft. Out of these identity theft is one of the most dangerous type of crime where an impersonator can steal another person's identity, use it for financial and other gains, and literally wreck the victim's life. ("Types of Computer Crimes," 2009)

Nowadays almost every item of modern living has a computer attached to it. Apart from the almost ubiquitous desktop computer with an internet connection, one can find a computer inside elevators in skyscrapers, inside modern cars, restaurants, shops, and so on. It has also become very common to make purchases at retail stores or eat at restaurants and make the payment through credit cards where the transaction is encrypted and the details sent to the relevant location via Internet. This is where crooks can steal the digital data and use it for identity theft. ("Computer Crimes in the Digital Age," n. d.)

Thus, identity theft refers to acquiring an individual's personal information like social security number, name or date of birth, without that individual's knowledge and using this information to impersonate him and commit fraud. Identity theft is extremely personal since a stranger or even a familiar person can assume your identity and cause extreme damage in the form of credit card abuse and exposing sensitive personal information on the internet for everybody to see. This can be devastating for a person's daily as well as financial life. Possible thieves can be strangers or even friends, relatives, roommates, household workers, and estranged spouses. (Vacca, 2002); ("What is Identity Theft?," 2009)

Identity theft can be financial, commercial or identity cloning. Financial identity theft occurs when an impersonator assumes another's identity to obtain some goods or services. Commercial identity theft occurs when someone else's credit card details or business name is used for commercial gains. Identity cloning takes place when another individual's personal details are used for posing as a false user. Identity theft can be of the following types: credit card fraud, phone or utilities fraud, banking frauds or frauds involving depository accounts, loan frauds, bankruptcy frauds and other frauds involving areas like tax returns, medical, social security, illegal migration, employment, securities and investment, residential leases, miscellaneous government documents, and even terrorism. ("Types of Computer Crimes," 2009); ("What is Identity Theft?," 2009)

Credit card fraud is one of the most commonly used identity thefts. In this case, the thief calls up a credit card company claiming to be the victim and informs them about a change in the mailing address of an account which already exists. Alternatively, the thief can open an entirely new credit card account in the name of the victim. Now the thief can start using the credit card to buy goods or services without paying for them. Since the bills are now sent to another address, the victim does not even come to know that his credit card information has been stolen and is being misused. The second most common type of identity theft is the phone and utilities fraud which occurs when a thief signs up for services like cell phone services, long distance services, and other utilities in the name of the victim. The third category of identity theft involves bank accounts. Here, an identity thief opens an account in a bank in the name of the victim. Now he is capable of writing bad checks or making electronic fund transfers from that account. The identity thief can also take out loans in the name of the victim. ("Types of Computer Crimes," 2009); ("What is Identity Theft?," 2009)

There are a number of ways, both high-tech and low-tech, in which an identity can be stolen without the victim's knowledge. Stolen purses and wallets contain bank cards, credit cards and IDs which are a ready source of identity theft for such thieves. Another practice which has proved to be a good source of personal information for thieves is curbside recycling which can provide sensitive documents containing vital information. In a practice known as "dumpster diving," identity thieves rummage through the trash of businesses as well as households looking for personal information. Thieves may steal mail containing vital information. Trash or personal mailboxes can often contain pay stubs, credit card statements, credit card carbons, telephone calling cards, pre-approved credit offers, bank statements, and tax information. Identity thieves may fill out a "change of address form" in order to redirect mail from the victim's mailbox to their own location. Thieves can obtain credit reports through fraudulent means. These credit reports are a virtual goldmine of information and can provide enough data for the thief to impersonate another individual. Dishonest employees who have access to sensitive personal records of employers can also steal identities. These were some of the low-tech means employed by thieves to steal identities. (Vacca, 2002); ("How do Identity Thieves steal your Information?," 2009)

High-tech means of identity theft include methods like backdoor entries, use of bots, hacking, phishing, etc. Apart from creating viruses to destroy computers and the information contained therein, many hackers focus on stealing identities. Hacking is actually not a crime and many companies hire hackers for assistance in developing software, checking the airtightness of certain concepts, and providing solutions in cases where user IDs or passwords are misused or lost. These white-collar employees who are actually trained to help computer companies can create malicious programs that can steal vital personal information from others computers and help in assuming others identities for financial benefits. Hackers can hack into the computers of large companies or retail stores and get information like name, salary, credit card details, etc. from their records. According to Symantec Corp., the makers of Norton Antivirus, more than 75% of all hackers have shifted focus from notoriety crimes to identity theft crimes.

Hackers can create bots for stealing identities. Bots are programs that can work online as if they were real persons and gather vast amounts of information at lightning speed. Bots can search unprotected e-mail addresses from websites and send spam messages to various people. Bots can sign up on forums and access personal information like birthdays, phone numbers, and addresses from them. Bots are extremely dangerous since they can imitate people but unlike them bots are much smarter, can work for 24 hours a day, and can access thousands of web sites to gather as much as information as possible without stopping. Bots can even unearth supposedly hidden information and compile them together in a meaningful way to help in stealing identities. Phishing scams are much simpler. Here, an identity thief sends a mail to the victim(s) claiming to be from a credit card company or from a bank and asks the victim to provide his/her account number or other vital information for confirmation and security purposes. The mail may also warn the victim that if this is not done within a stipulated time, the victim's account may be cancelled. Phishers employ spam techniques to send millions of copies of such mails. Even if a small fraction of such people is naive enough to give out such sensitive information, the phisher would succeed. Another method by which identities can be stolen is through backdoors. (Atlantic Publishing, 2008); (Schwabach, 2005)

Every computer program has some inbuilt backdoors which can be utilized in situations where users forget usernames or passwords or have some other problems. These backdoors are a "necessary evil" because these can also be utilized by scammers to glean personal details of users like birthdates, mother's maiden names, passwords, etc. Hackers can also crack a victim's account password to get a wealth of information. They use a variety of methods like dictionary attack and hybrid attack. Another program used to steal identities online is spyware. Spyware is actually an assortment of various programs which inconspicuously gets downloaded onto the computers of users. It has been estimated… [END OF PREVIEW]

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