Identity theft involves the use of another person’s identification, such as credit card number, driver’s license number, social security number, or any other personal information to commit a crime or theft without permission to do so from the owner. Identity theft is a crime that causes a lot of damage to the victims by ruining their finances and even their reputation. It also consumes money, time, and patience to resolve. According to the Federal Trade Commission (2013), identity theft topped the list of crimes reported by consumers in 2012. Out of 2 million cases received by the FTC last year, nearly one in five involved identity theft. There are various types of identity theft including tax related identity theft, medical identity theft, child identity theft, and other financial related identity thefts among others.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), identity theft is the fastest growing crime. Javelin Strategies, a renowned research firm on identity theft cases, reported an increase of 11% in crimes from 2009-2010 involving 11 million citizens of the United States (Information Security University of Virginia, 2013). This figure increased to 12.6 million victims of identity theft in 2012, according to another study conducted by Javelin Strategies (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2013). This paper discusses the issue of identity theft, its impact on individuals and organizations, and the ways to prevent its impact. The paper will also discuss the ethical issues associated with the identity theft.
The Implications of Identity Theft
The problem of identity theft creates havoc to the victims, who spend a lot of time and resources trying to resolve it. This involves opening of the new bank accounts, while closing the infiltrated accounts, as well as fixing credit notes, where applicable. Other expenses are those, related with clearing the names of the people implicated in the various offenses committed by the criminals in their name. Moreover, identity theft causes an individual to lose a job opportunity, a chance to get a loan, access to medical attention, and even face conviction mistakenly for crimes committed in their name. Identity theft falls into the two major types, including account takeover and application fraud. Account takeover entails a thief getting details of a credit account with the aim of purchasing goods and services using either the credit card or the details of the account, that is, the account number and the expiration date. On the other hand, application fraud entails the use of an individual’s personal identifying information to open the new accounts in the victim’s name. This may take some time for the victim to figure out, until account statements reflect an address belonging to the imposter (PRC, 2013). Cases of internet crimes have increased in the recent years; the criminals are able to obtain identifying information, such as passwords and bank account numbers, to commit crimes and fraud.
The United States has several agencies that deal with identity theft, which is a criminal offense under the existing laws. The U.S. Department of Justice plays a vital role in the efforts made toward mitigating the effects of identity theft, particularly by prosecuting the cases of identity theft under several federal statutes. In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act that deals specifically with identity theft crimes. An individual, who commits identity theft crimes or fraud, can face prosecution under other statutes dealing with fraud in the financial institutions, mail fraud, computer fraud, and credit card fraud. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a consumer protection agency that works to curb crimes involving business-related matters. The FTC has a consumer protection framework with several suggestions concerning the effective mechanisms of tackling crimes related to the identity theft (FTC, 2013). The victims of the internet crimes can file complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership organization involving the National White Collar Crime Center and the FBI. Further, the victims of identity theft related to the social security numbers may contact the Social Security Administration (SSA), because it provides information regarding the procedure of filing of complaints concerning fraudulent usage of their numbers. The SSA also provides information on the ways to correct information pertaining the victim’s earnings. The victims of identity theft are also supposed to report cases of theft to the local police department to receive reports, which are essential in filing notifications to the SSA and other relevant credit agencies (Information Security University of Virginia, 2013).
The Ethical Issues of Identity Theft
The use of computer technology has contributed immensely toward the perpetuation of crimes involving identity theft. This has raised several ethical issues related to the identity theft. The law requires people to act ethically; meaning, they should take responsibility for their actions. In many cases, the police, banks, and merchants do not pursue criminals, who have committed identity theft, which is ethically incorrect. Imposters, who steal other people’s identification information, interfere with the privacy of the victims and the companies involved. People, who commit computer-related crimes, are usually intellectuals, and the nature of crimes involves white-collar crimes, which contradict the ethical principles of professionalism (Berzai, 2012).
Information technology has greatly affected the power to control and to access information. Government agencies with online databases for capturing official records of citizens may lead to exposure of such private information to criminals. On the other hand, an employee’s unauthorized use of a computer belonging to a company may be committing a crime related to the unauthorized access of the company’s data and private information. This crime entails invasion in privacy and property. As a result, privacy laws that inadequately protect financial data and financial institutions may be encouraging the unethical practices, such as buying and selling of private information, which constitutes an ethical dilemma.
Identity theft presents several problems to individuals, companies, and the government. Although full mitigation is almost impossible, reduction of the rising trends is achievable. The US federal laws on privacy should offer more protection in relation to the use of electronic medical information, student information, and electronic communication. There should be stiffer penalties on the criminals, who commit identity theft, to deter them from engaging in the unlawful acts. The public should also be educated more to ensure there is more public awareness in relation to the prevention of identity theft. Lastly, the police and justice departments should play a proactive role in terms of pursuing criminals of the identity theft and prosecuting them accordingly.