Shoulder surfing and dumpster diving

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft can be a lucrative business for those responsible, making it one of the fastest growing areas of crime. But just what is identity theft and can it be prevented?

Identity theft is the crime in which someone obtains your personal information, such as credit card information, driver’s licence numbers or even your passport in order to impersonate you. This information can be used in a number of ways ranging from obtaining credit, using your credit card details to purchase items or services in your name. A large trend in the recent decade has been the use of stolen identification being provided to police, which could lead to creating a criminal record.

There are two ways your Identity can be used by these thieves. These are called true name identity theft and account takeover identify theft. When a thief performs a True name identity theft, they are using your personal information to open new accounts such as a credit card account, mobile phone or even a checking account. Account takeover identify theft is when the thief uses your personal information to gain access to one of many of your pre-existing accounts and will typically change your mailing address so that they can run up a large bill on your mobile phone plan or credit card before you notice.

Identity theft is more likely to occur through less technical methods than over the internet, with shoulder surfing and dumpster diving the two most popular methods. Shoulder surfing is where someone stands next to you at a public record office and watches as you fill out personal information, and fills in the same information on their sheet to steal it. Dumpster diving is when someone goes through your trash to look for any personal information that could be used such as credit card information or old credit cards etc. While these methods are most popular, we have seen a large trend in cyber identity theft in the recent years.

Cyber identity theft or cyber theft as it is commonly referred as, has increased dramatically in the past 10 years and is a serious threat to all online users. The most common ways used to hi-jack your information are:

1. Emails that pretend to be someone they are not. Majority of these emails pretend to be from a banking institution such as Westpac banking until you click the link and it takes you to a “fake” website that looks exactly like the Westpac website.
2. Email address hacking. Majority of us keep extremely sensitive information in our e-mail boxes when we should delete them after used or store the information elsewhere.
3. Keyloggers. These programs are either downloaded when you open a email which has a virus attached or a hacker bi-passes your computer’s protection programs and places it directly on your computer, recording every keystroke.
4. Database hacking. This occurs when a hacker gains access to a sensitive internet database and steals vital information such as credit card names and numbers

How to prevent Identity Theft

There are a couple of simple things to remember when disposing and storing sensitive information. Always store your sensitive information in a locked cabinet at home and when disposing of it, do not simply throw it in the garbage, shread/burn if needed to stay secure. When filling out your important information in a bank or government facility, hide your information from view, if you notice someone peeping, wait until they move on and then continue. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

When on the internet it is important to remember a number of things:
– When you get an email from your banking institution, chances are it is a fraud email, never click a link inside
– Any email telling you that you are owned a large sum of money is fake
– Don’t click an eBay link unless you know it is related to something you are selling, as this is a new hi-jack method
– Change your password for your email address every six months and make sure this password is at least six letters and two numbers to be secure
– Never open attachments if you are unsure of the person sending them to you or what is inside

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