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Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online
Introduction to cyber security: stay safe online

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1 Identity theft

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Identity theft is a type of fraud in which an attacker uses stolen personal information to impersonate another person. This video shows an extreme, though by no means unique, example of the possible consequences of identity theft for an individual.

Traditionally, this type of fraud was achieved by an attacker intercepting postal deliveries which contain personal information such as names, addresses, bank account details and so on. Attackers could then open credit card accounts and apply for loans in the victim’s name. Victims have had their financial security and lives ruined by identity theft.

The online world has opened up a new, lucrative source of information for fraudsters. Many users have been quite relaxed about sharing their information with online services and other users, but even security conscious individuals are threatened by malware designed to sniff out personal information on a computer, or phishing attacks that persuade users to divulge personal information. Additionally, as we have seen, hacking attacks on big retailers can make millions of personal records available for potential abuse.

Online identity theft is a growing threat – in 2018, it was reported by 23% of internet users in the US according to Statista (2018).

Preventing identity theft

You can greatly limit your risk of online identity theft by following simple security procedures such as running an antivirus program, keeping it up to date and by not responding to phishing emails.

Detecting identity theft

Online identity theft may pass unnoticed for some time, during which great damage can be done to your financial security. Some signs that a victim might notice are:

  • unexplained bank withdrawals or credit card charges
  • bills and other expected official letters don’t arrive
  • cards or cheques are declined
  • debt collectors make contact about debts the victim knows nothing about
  • they receive notice that their information was compromised by a data breach at a company where they do business or have an account
  • their bank or credit card provider makes contact about suspicious behaviour on their account.

However, you cannot do much to prevent the loss of your details by other organisations that provide everything needed to steal your identity. In 2017, Equifax, one of the three major credit reporting agencies in the US, announced a data breach that affected 143 million consumers. The hackers accessed social security numbers, birthdates, addresses, and driver’s license numbers.

It is worth keeping an eye on your own free credit reports to make sure nothing unexpected is being shown that might indicate identity theft.

Next, you’ll learn about what data loss can mean for organisations.