Security

Identity theft is alive and well--and fraudsters keep getting richer

Last year, cyber criminals netted 16 billion dollars in the US alone. Find out why fraudsters are so successful and what you can do to stay safe.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/KenTannenbaum


Identity fraud no longer makes tech-news headlines, and that's how cyber bad guys like it. Staying below the radar has afforded cyber fraudsters a steady income for many years—something well understood by the analysts at Javelin Strategy and Research. They have been tracking identity fraud since the early 2000s, and this year is no different. The company's recently released 2017 Identity Fraud Survey advises that in 2016, 15.4 million Americans lost 16 billion dollars to identity fraud.

What's more, according to the people at Javelin, 2016 was a banner year for fraudsters. "The overall fraud incidence rose 16 percent to affect 6.15 percent of U.S. consumers, from 5.30 percent in 2015—the highest on record," the report said. "Unfortunately, risks inherent to growing connectivity combined with weak identity verification, the rise of EMV, and the circumvention of antiquated controls created an environment where fraud thrived, and everyone paid the price."

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Image: Javelin Strategy and Research

Fraudsters are using different strategies

After studying the Javelin report, the Motley Fool's Wendy Connick wrote that fraudsters are using different strategies to stay successful. Here are what Connick considers to be the new and upcoming identity-fraud schemes.

New account identity fraud: If fraudsters can get an individual's Social Security number, they can use it to open bank accounts and/or sign up for credit cards in the victim's name. "Identity thieves will make large deposits of bad checks into an account on a Friday or Saturday, so they have extra time to withdraw the money before the checks are returned," Connick said. "Or they'll apply for a credit card online, using a stolen Social Security number and birth date and then max out the card and disappear."

Connick said this style of identity fraud is hard to catch because people may not know they are a victim until they apply for a loan or credit card and learn loans and/or credit cards already exist.

Tax identity fraud: Connick moves on to a more insidious type of identity fraud. Using an individual's Social Security number, especially a child's, an identity thief can file a tax return in the victim's name, claim a refund, then take the money and run. "The victim finds out about the fraud when the IRS audits them and demands repayment of the bogus refund," Connick said. "Fraudsters can often get the information they need to file taxes in the victim's name from the internet, but some will send phishing emails to victims or even make phone calls claiming to be a representative of the IRS."

Medical identity fraud: With the push to use Electronic Health Records, identity thieves find it easier than ever to obtain a victim's name, health insurance information, and possibly financial information. Connick said that digital fraudsters can use this information for a plethora of crimes, including getting medical treatment. "Not only do victims end up with the bills, collection calls, and dings on their credit report. They may have trouble qualifying for life and other types of insurance because their records list them as having a medical condition based on the fraudster's claims and treatment."

SEE: Identity Theft Protection Policy (Tech Pro Research)

Employment identity fraud: This is another identity fraud crime that is discovered after the fact. Online fraudsters either use stolen identities for themselves or sell them to individuals who can't get a job due to some impropriety. "Needless to say, this can cause real problems for future employment opportunities," Connick said. "For example, the IRS may demand that victims pay taxes on income that the fraudster earned in their name."

Identity Fraud Institute

Like so many other digital crimes, an educated public is the best defense. Many universities understand this and are integrating classes and degrees into their programs. One, in particular, Hodges University, is a leader in this regard. A year ago, the Identity Fraud Institute at Hodges and its director Carrie Kerskie were featured in the TechRepublic article Business ID theft: Slow progress in the battle against fraudsters. Knowing first hand the travails of identity theft and fraud, Kerskie describes the institute's direction this way:

"The mission of the Identity Fraud Institute (IFI) is to learn, share, and collaborate. The IFI accomplishes this through educational opportunities for the community and professionals. Educational opportunities consist of community lectures, seminars, corporate training, and a speaker's bureau."

After two years of fighting identity fraud at IFI, Kerskie has learned a few things. "In the beginning, we wanted to offer assistance to identity theft and fraud victims, use the information to conduct research, and then develop educational programs for both consumers and professionals," Kerskie said in a recent interview.

SEE: Worried about identity theft? Then you should avoid these password pitfalls

Kerskie and her associates learned that businesses and organizations see it differently. Those responsible for the businesses feel they are not qualified to help their clients restore identities. They prefer to rely on those who have the knowledge and experience. "Here locally all of them said I would just call you," Kerskie said. "Others believe the FTC offers this service. While they have basic information on their website; it is not enough."

So the IFI has taken a new route. "We have modified our strategy for the IFI," Kerskie said. "We have submitted a request for state funding to develop and maintain a website. The website will be a central point-of-contact for mitigating identity theft and fraud for both individuals and businesses."

But Kerskie still believes it is crucial to assist victims. "Working with victims provides us with a front-row seat to what victims are facing," she said. "This could range from a new threat to barriers in restoring their identity. This information is crucial to enable us to develop educational programs."

To stay on top of the latest identity fraud threats and ways to resolve identity theft, the IFI offers this digital newsletter.

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Your thoughts

Have you run into any of the types of fraud discussed here? How do you protect yourself from identity theft? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.


About Michael Kassner

Information is my field...Writing is my passion...Coupling the two is my mission.

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