Free Ethical Considerations Of Identity Theft Research Paper Example
Ethical Considerations of Identity Theft
Identity theft is one of the preeminent crimes of the present day. With the onset of the information age, personal information has become much more readily available. This increased accessibility has in turn made it much easier to steal identities. Estimates state that up to 9 million adults in the US each year are victims of identity fraud (Anderson, Durbin, & Salinger, 2008). Therefore, it is evident that the magnitude of this problem cannot be understated. To understand identity theft, however, we must first understand what identity is.
Identity can refer to a set of unique identifiers that differentiate one person from another. It has three basic components namely: attributed identity, biometric identity and biographical identity (Jasper, 2006). Attributed identity describes information given at birth for example name, date, and place of birth. Biometric identity refers to unique body features for example fingerprints. Biographic identity describes information like criminal records, which accumulates over an individual’s lifetime. All these components combine to make up the individual’s personal identifying information (PII) (Jasper, 2006). Thus, identity theft targets these elements of an individual’s identifiers.
Identity theft is recognized as a crime under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act (ITADA) of 1998. The Act associates identity theft with knowingly transferring, keeping, or using a name or number, which usually identifies someone else while intending to commit, aid or abet a crime (Jonathan, 2009). This paper will look at two general classifications of identity theft. Criminal identity theft and Synthetic identity theft. It will identify what problems they cause and how to mitigate against them. The ethical considerations of these thefts will also be addressed.
Criminal identity theft refers to a form of identity theft that manifests itself in various circumstances. For example, it can be where personal identifying information like address or social security number belonging to the victim is used by a criminal to identify themselves in the commission of a crime. Since this is a stolen identity, it leads to the wrongful arrest of the victim. It can be described as false misrepresentation as another person when arrested for commission of a crime. This type of identity theft can also encompass financial identity theft, where the victim’s social security number and name are used to obtain merchandise like apartments or access services like loans. Here, it takes two forms: New account fraud and existing account fraud. New account fraud takes place where the information is used to create new credit accounts. Existing account fraud is where the information is used to gain access to one or more of the victim’s existing accounts (Whiting, 2013).
This type of fraud poses many problems both to the victim and to other parties. One such problem may be the wrongful arrest of a victim. This can be best illustrated by the case of Terry Rogan of Los Angeles, who was arrested on five separate occasions in 1982 and 1983 for crimes he did not commit. This was after McKandes, an Alabama state prison escapee, obtained a copy of Rogan’s birth certificate in Michigan and used Rogan’s name to apply for a driver’s license among other identification documents in California. McKandes used this identity to perpetrate a series of criminal activities. This led a California court to issue a warrant in Rogan’s name charging him with two robbery-murders in California. This warrant information was entered into the National Crime Information Centre database, and the inaccurate information led to several arrests for the victim between 1982 and 1984 and caused him to endure great humiliation (Jonathan, 2009).
Another problem that can result is damage to a consumer’s credit rating. This can result where a fraudster uses the stolen identity to open new lines of credit in the victim’s name. Examples of these lines of credit can include credit cards, utilities, or even mortgages. The criminal then uses these credit cards to order for goods and merchandise, which they will not pay for. Since these fraudulent accounts are in the victim’s credit history, it makes it difficult for the victim to access further credit. It may even lead to failure to secure employment (Heidenreich, 2012).
Yet another problem is actual financial loss to the consumer. This occurs in the case of an account takeover. The impact here depends on the nature of the account targeted. If a credit account is targeted, the victim may not suffer a great loss as they can dispute fraudulent card charges. On the other hand, if the fraudster targets a non-credit account like a savings account, the victim may be left with no money to pay their bills. Though there are protective regulatory measures for non-credit customers, it is not common for the victims to recover the full amount (Anderson, Durbin, & Salinger, 2008).
Various measures have been put in place to mitigate against these occurrences and their resultant impacts. These measures include passing of pieces of legislation such as the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act 1998 (Jonathan, 2009). This officially recognized identity theft as a crime and defined identity theft. Another mitigation measure is the change from magnetic strip cards to the much more secure chip and pin cards. This has eliminated theft of information like passwords through ‘skimming’. Another mitigation measure is the flagging of credit cards or ATM cards which are reported as stolen, or whose owners are victims of identity theft. This ensures that no transactions can be conducted with these cards. Another method has been consumer education on identity theft and how to avoid it. Bodies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in its campaigns have done this. The FTC campaign urges the public to protect themselves and to report identity theft as soon as it is detected (Lenardon, 2006).
The second type of identity theft is synthetic identity theft. This type occurs when personal identifying information is stolen from different sources. This information is then amalgamated and used to invent new, false identities with entirely fabricated details (Jasper, 2006). There are various techniques that fraudsters use to obtain this information. These methods include dumpster diving, where criminals sift through a victim’s garbage in the hope of finding documents like loan applications, which contain the victim’s Social Security Number. Another method is shoulder surfing where a criminal may overhear someone giving away personal information over phone lines or look over their shoulder as they fill out ATM forms. Another method can be pharming whereby the hackers send the victim an e-mail with an attached virus. This virus will contain a program, which can record keystrokes and thus gather crucial information (Lenardon, 2006).
The other method that can also be employed is spoofing where a message is sent to a computer. This message is disguised as coming from a trusted computer’s IP address hence when personal information is requested; the victim will provide it unsuspectingly. Another method is botnets, where the hacker inserts a control program into the victim's computer hence, can control the victim’s PC from a remote location. We can also have a method called pretexting where a criminal creates a situation, called a pretext, designed to dupe the victim into providing information they would normally not have given. The other method is that of phishing where an unsuspecting individual receives an e-mail that mimics that of a legitimate institution. The email asks the victim to visit a trusted website and provide personal identity information. However, the link to the website is false. Another method is that of vishing, which makes use of both voice and phishing. A prerecorded voice calls the victim, directing them to call a number and provide bank details or credit card information. A normal phishing email can also be sent, but with directions to call rather than follow a link (Heidenreich, 2012).
Synthetic identity theft also has a number of associated problems. For starters, it causes the problem of financial losses to the businesses and lending institutions that give credit or provide services or goods to these fictitious identities. The problem arises when they attempt to seek payment for the items or services provided, or in the case of lending institutions, when the payment is due. They then find out that those people are non-existent. Hence, they are are forced to shoulder the financial burden of these frauds (Whiting, 2013).
Another potential problem that may arise is that of reputational damage. This is the harm to the victims’ reputation that results from them being associated with the identity theft. Individuals whose Social Security numbers are used to create these false identities often have a hard time delinking themselves from the fraud. These people often have to face suspicion from credit card fraud investigators, federal investigators, bank officials, and even people who know them. In fact, they are often condemned as guilty until proven innocent yet they actually knew nothing. It often takes great effort for these people to clear their names, and it may also be very costly (Anderson, Durbin, & Salinger, 2008).
Synthetic identity theft also poses the problem of national security. The fact that this type of identity theft is extremely difficult to detect makes it a big threat to national security. Criminals can even create a false credit history with these identities, enabling them to appear real in all aspects. This means that the false identities would hold even under scrutiny. If for instance terrorists were to use these identities to access air transport, government buildings or other strategic infrastructure, the repercussions would be fatal.
There are, however, a number of mitigating measures that have been, or can be, put in place to counter these problems. One such measure can be authentication of identities of credit card applicants. Rather than simply matching the Social Security numbers with dates of birth, the names should also be matched. This would ensure that the identities are not simply an amalgam of various people’s identities. Another measure would be to encrypt personal identification information. This encryption would ensure that the information is useless even if it is stolen (Jasper, 2006). Another method that can be applied is to require that banks and other credit institutions declare or report incidences of synthetic identity theft. The lack of reporting of these crimes has made it seem less of a problem than it actually is. Most of these institutions prefer to quietly write off these losses rather than report them and risk losing their customers’ trust in the security and soundness of their systems (Jonathan, 2009).
It is important then, to look at some of the ethical considerations of these measures. For example, banks and other credit institutions rely on customers’ perception of security and trust in their systems for their existence. Thus, however, beneficial it is to have the banks declare these losses, care must be taken not to undermine the confidence in these institutions. Again, releasing this information may cause mistrust of online banking and e-commerce systems. This could see people prefer a return to traditional systems. Unfortunately, these are even less secure in addition to being more expensive (Heidenreich, 2012)
Anderson, K. B., Durbin, E., & Salinger, M. A. (2008). Identity Theft. The Journal of Economic Perspectives , 171-192.
Heidenreich, J. H. (2012). The impact and awareness of identity theft. Utica College.
Jasper, M. C. (2006). Identity theft and how to protect yourself. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y: Oceana Publications.
Jonathan, R. T. (2009). So Many Privacy Rules! The Developing Standard of Care for Data Security and Identity Theft Protection. Business Law Today , 54-58.
Lenardon, J. (2006). Identity theft toolkit: How to recover from and avoid identity theft. . North Vancouver, BC: Self-Counsel Press.
Whiting, J. (2013). Identity Theft. San Diego, CA: ReferencePoint Press.
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