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Avoiding Identity Theft: Cyber and Internet Security Trends

More than 80 percent of the world’s population has access to the internet.  Read that again – over 80 percent of the world’s more than seven billion people has internet access.  The abundance of information and ease of use make the internet appealing. It has become a part of everyday life for most of us, and thanks to the explosion of smartphones, tablets, and wireless internet connections, we can access the internet anytime, anywhere.

Information on Identity Theft and tips on internet safetyThose numbers, however, mean that the number of internet-related crimes is assumed to be equally high and state and federal authorities across the U.S. have identified identity theft and cyber crime as a key area of focus. With individuals divulging extensive personal and financial information over a wide range of websites, hackers have access to a seemingly unending supply of identity theft and fraud targets. In the crush to address this trend, however, a growing number of every-day people are falling prey to internet and identity theft investigations and charges in Washington, DC and throughout the country.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, identity theft and cyber crime are “one of the greatest threats facing our country, and has enormous implications for our national security, economic prosperity, and public safety. Attorney General Eric Holder has made it one of the Department of Justice’s top priorities.” As such, the DOJ has investigated large sums of money into the investigation and prosecution of these types of crimes.

Identity Theft Statistics

The DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics defines three incident types, all of which are all classified as identity theft:

  • Unauthorized use, whether successful or attempted, of an existing account;
  • Unauthorized use, whether successful or attempted, of personal information to set up a new account;
  • Unauthorized use of personal information for purposes of fraud.

Between 2005 and 2010, the number of households that reported identity theft incidents increased by more than 30 percent, rising from 6.4 million-affected households to nearly nine million households.  The average loss per household in 2010 was estimated by the DOJ at $2,200, resulting in more than $13 billion in financial loss nationwide.

As a result, large numbers of people have found themselves the subject of cyber crime and identity theft investigations and charges. Though we’re all familiar with the image of the shadowy hacker, there are cases in which individuals did not intend to illegally access the information of another person or organization, or they perhaps had access through a job and did not realize that certain actions are restricted or illegal. The advice most often given to potential victims of identity theft – namely maintaining accurate records of all accounts and online dealings — can also help individuals flag potential or alleged fraudulent activity quickly and acquire legal help to ensure that they do not become wrongly charged or ensnared in a federal or local investigation.

Steps to Avoid Internet Identity Theft Issues

There are certain steps everyone should take to help prevent the likelihood of online identity theft.  The Department of Justice recommends remembering and following the simple acronym “SCAM.”

  • S – Be stingy when it comes to releasing personal information.
  • C Check the status of financial accounts on a regular basis, looking for inconsistencies.
  • A Ask for your credit report from time to time.
  • M Maintain thorough, accurate records of all financial information and bank accounts.

This applies not only to individuals, but to those who have access to the information and accounts of another person. Such access commonly occurs through work or personal relationships. Therefore, it is always advised that those with access to the sensitive information of others adopt the same strict standards they would utilize in the handling of their own information.

Changing passwords and using random alphanumeric passwords can also help keep client information protected. Avoid using names and dates which can easily be found in relation to you, or the organization you represent, and avoid using the same password from site to site.  Using separate email addresses for social media and financial/business sites is also recommended.

By thoroughly monitoring accounts on a regular basis, one can recognize unauthorized activity more readily and, if they are concerned that they may be exposed to criminal allegations or an investigation, consult with a qualified attorney on what their next steps should involve.

Additional Internet Dangers

Internet users must not only be aware of protecting business and personal information, they must also be aware of dangers posed by engaging with others via various social media platforms. Social media and networking sites are used by roughly 75 percent of all internet users worldwide.  With sites such as Twitter and Facebook, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, the trend crosses all age, gender, and socio-economic boundaries. Therefore, status updates, posts, tweets, comments, and photos hastily made public can be unintentionally hurtful to others or damaging to one’s own reputation – at work and at home. These mistakes, though unintentional, can be nearly impossible to retract, so extreme caution should always be exercised.

In some cases, social media engagement can lead to accusations of serious crimes, ranging from stalking to sex offenses. Those who seek out public chat sites to engage in pure fantasy might end up inadvertently establishing a connection with an individual or group that may be engaged in illegal activities, or they could end up having a conversation with an undercover officer who believes they mean to act on their fantasies. Chat rooms in particular pose a high risk for such mistakes. This is why caution should always be exercised when engaged with any social media, chat room, or other online site.

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