American people making shopping easy through online shopping, use of credit cards, filing taxes online and even online banking in some cases. However, one major ethical issue arising with the increased use of information technology is the issue of Identity theft (Usa.gov, 2015). It is the intentional use of another person's identity usually aimed at gaining a financial advantage or obtains credit benefits at the expense of another person (Davies, 2013). The person whose identity is stolen may suffer severe consequences if the thief uses such information to engage in criminal activities. The theft may take the form of stealing another person’s identity number, credit card name, their name, or even social security numbers with the intention of using them to commit a fraud or crimes. Identity theft is growing in frequency and proving to be very costly to victims in the United States. The Federal Trade Commission indicates that the number of reported cases of identity theft is on the rise in the country (Usa.gov, 2015). The US Department of Justice reports that Credit card theft had exploded with an over 50% increase between 2006 and 2010 alone (Usa.gov, 2015). Imagine the kind of damage that an identity thief would cause to you if they were out there filing taxes, opening accounts or making purchases using your identity (Davies, 2013). It is important to note that identity theft can happen to anyone. However, the silver lining is that there are measures that an individual can put in place to avoid its occurrence.
According to McNallydentity theft can be classified into five categories namely:
a) Criminal identity theft. It occurs when an individual identifies themselves as another upon their apprehension by the police. In some cases, such criminal may present fake identity cards identifying themselves as another person. Therefore, such charges may be filed with the victim’s names leaving the criminal off the hook.
b) Financial identity theft. It is the most common identity theft where an individual wants to gain economically using another person’s name. It may include getting credits, goods and services, and even soliciting for loans.
c) Identity cloning. It occurs when a criminal impersonates another person to conceal their true identity. It is commonly used by illegal immigrants, people hiding from creditors and also by other individuals that want to remain anonymous.
d) Medical identity theft. It occurs when a person seeks for medical care using another person’s identity. It leads to financial harm to the victim and may risk the health of the victim when the thief’s medical history is added to the victim’s medical records. Such inconsistency in the medical records may be hard to correct and may result in misinforming doctors in the future or even make the person’s insurability difficult if the discrepancies are noticed.
e) Child identity theft. It occurs when another individual for his or her personal gain uses the identity of a child. The imposter may be a friend, family member or even a stranger who targets the child. The imposters may target then social security numbers of children because they do not have any information associated with them. The thieves can, therefore, obtain a driver’s license, establish credit lines and even make purchases using the child’s identity.
Falling victim to identity theft and fraud has become easy with the criminals inventing smart ways to access personal information of an individual. Criminals no longer have to break into people’s homes or engage in violent crime to obtain the personal information of an individual. They engage in activities such as pick pocketing in the streets, watching an individual, as they type their credit card passwords or even as a person engages in a conversation giving their credit card number to another person (Davies, 2013). Another avenue used by the criminals are accessing the credit card information sent through the wrongly discarded mail. Moreover, if the mail intercepted, the credit card information may fall to the wrong people. The internet has also presented another avenue that the identity thieves use to gain access to personal information. They can access passwords and even banking information through the internet either by hacking into people’s secured emails (McNally. Others send spam emails that some people may fall victim to as they try to solicit services from fraudulent individuals and hence end up providing personal information such as credit card numbers, official names, and social security numbers. With enough identification information about an individual, a criminal can assume the victim’s identity to conduct a broad range of crimes. For example, they can engage in falsified loan applications, fraudulent withdrawal from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards or even making purchases and other privileges (McNally.
However, the Department of Justice is actively involved in trying to combat the identity theft and fraud that is on the rise in the country. In 1998, the Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act that created a new offense of identity theft prohibiting knowingly transfer or use of another person’s identification without lawful authority. The offense leads to a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment, a fine and forfeiting of all personal property used or planned to be used in committing an offense (Stickley, 2008).
Despite the attempts and commitment to the laws to protect individuals against identity theft, there is a need for individuals to take the necessary precaution at safeguarding their information and to avoid identity theft. Some of the ways that individuals can institute tom prevent identity theft include: first ensure that they choose good passwords and PINs. It is important to choose words and numbers that others would not manage to guess due to the information they know about the individual. It is not safe tom use obvious passwords and PINs such as your child’s birth as it is but one can add other coded ways of representing the confidential information (McNally. There is also the need to ensure that one does not use the same PIN or passwords for all the accounts they hold just in case one password is discovered. The second way to ensure security is by an individual protecting their personal computers. The criminals have advanced because of the advancements in information technology and use spyware and key loggers to access sensitive information and passwords from a person’s computer. Just because, there is nothing wrong one can perceive does not mean that nothing is going on behind the scenes and hence the need to fit the computers with the necessary antispyware programs and antivirus programs that are functional and up to date (Stickley, 2008). The third precaution an individual should exercise is by remaining keen on possible phishing scams. Phishing involves seemingly harmless emails sent to a person’s account asking for verification of passwords, account numbers, social security numbers among other sensitive information. Any email requesting such verification should be followed up with the service provider to verify its genuineness. Additionally, it is crucial to be careful as one shop online and to avoid answering emails that do not make sense to an individual or those that are unnecessary. Other steps one can take to safeguard their personal information include leaving the credit cards and social security numbers at a safe place at home or work, shredding any materials that contain personal information before disposing them, and safeguarding the key as one types their account, passwords or other personal information (Stickley, 2008).
In conclusion, it is clear that no one is safe from identity theft especially with the advancements in information technology that has made access to information easier. Identity theft can lead to detrimental consequences for the victim if not detected and addressed early enough and hence the need to be vigilant and careful in safeguarding personal information. Moreover, Identity theft may be used to either facilitate or fund other crimes that may include terrorism, illegal immigration, espionage, and phishing, all which can lead to grave consequences to the victim. Identity theft is, therefore, a crime related and should be stopped at all costs and is made rampant with the increase in the use of information technology.