What is Online Identity Theft and How do You Tackle It?

Section 66 of India’s Information Technology Act defines identity theft as use of electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of a person for dishonest or fraudulent purposes.

Identity theft includes instances like:

  • • Hacking into a person’s mail account and sending an email in his or her name,
  • • Stealing a credit card and using it at an outlet, or
  • • Pretending to somebody else on a social media site for dishonest or fraudulent purposes

The Internet, with all its advantages and benefits, has made it easier for cyber criminals to steal identity and misuse the information. In the real world, a person in possession of your identity card cannot just walk into your office pretending to be you. In the virtual world, a person who knows your passwords or credit card information is, for all practical purposes, the owner of your identity. Online identity theft can take place in the following ways.

Social Media Tracking

Criminals are eschewing crude tactics like sifting through trash and are relying on sophisticated methods like identity theft through social media tracking. Social media profiles that are visible to all Internet surfers can be used by cyber criminals to collect details like birthdays, the identity and personal details of the individual’s family members, mother’s maiden name, their online banking service provider, and other such details.

Hackers often use this information to impersonate the individual on the Internet. Social media updates can be used by hackers to seek money for reasons like the wife’s birthday or an emergency during a foreign vacation. Recipients may find it difficult to suspect mails filled with accurate references to personal details.

Medical Identity Theft

Instead of hacking individual computers, cyber criminals are targeting data stored in corporate organizations, hospitals, and even online gaming sites. A report released by Ponemon Institute on behalf of the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA) reveals a 20% Y-o-Y increase in medical identity theft in the USA in 2014. 65% of the victims spent around $13,500 to resolve the theft and the misuse of their private medical information.

Copyright Infringement

All posts, updates, images, videos, and logos associated with your business represent your firm’s intellectual property. In a globalised market where consumers rely on logos, images, and trademarks to distinguish brands, copyright theft can easily lead to theft of your identity.

Unlike other instances of identity theft, it may take a long time for you to realize that content over which you have copyright has been stolen and misused. The financial and reputational impact too may take place over a long time. The most effective way to tackle this problem is to track all your content and take firm and immediate action somebody attempts to steal your copyrighted content.


This cybercrime involves use of social engineering techniques to either con the individual into disclosing his or her private and confidential information, or to extract information through download of malicious codes and programs into the individual’s computer. Keyloggers, Trojans, and other viruses will track your transactions on the Internet, and extract details like online banking User IDs and passwords, credit card numbers, CVV details, and other private information through your online submissions.

Tackling Online Identity Theft

The 2014 release of Microsoft's Annual Computing Safer Index indicates that 20% of respondents from India had fallen prey to phishing attacks and suffered an average loss of Rs.7500 per person. The survey estimates that global loss from phishing and other forms of identity theft at around $5 billion. Further, the cost of repairing the financial and other damage is estimated at around $630 per transaction. To keep private information safe from such criminals, one must consider the following precautions:

  • Carry out online transactions through a secured device with an up to date antivirus and anti-malware software application.
  • Never disclose private information through mails, chat messages, telephone, SMS, or through IVR phone calls.
  • Make sure your social media profile is not accessible to strangers. Be careful of what you share with others.
  • Using virtual payment cards for online shopping transactions. When submitting your credit or debit card details, make sure the information is not stored online

The Internet is becoming the preferred medium of communication, commerce, and other transactions. It is advisable to learn more about safety risks like identity theft, and the various steps and strategies that one should take to prevent cyber crimes.

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