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Posted at: Oct 5, 2019, 12:42 AM; last updated: Oct 5, 2019, 12:42 AM (IST)

When you are at risk

Amid rising cases of identity theft, here are some tips on how to keep safe

Sangeet Toor

In today’s world, an individual holds her identity in many forms. To begin with, there is the real, physical identity that includes name, address, date of birth, parent’s name and spouse’s name. This identity is used as a base to create the financial identity. Bank account numbers and credit card details make up this form of identity and is built up from the physical identity of an individual. Since we all spend a chunk of our lives online, there is social media identity too. Identity data is gold when it comes to the digital marketplace. Like any other asset, this asset in its various forms is vulnerable to theft too. Seema (surname withheld) moved abroad and did not check up on her bank account in India. The bank called her one day and demanded the dues. She, however, did not use any money from that account. As it turned out, her financial identity was stolen, and the perpetrator emptied her account.

In another case, an abusive husband took over all the social media accounts of his wife and started posting obscene material to her friends. Ultimately, the wife lost trust of family and friends because her social media identity was stolen and used for nefarious purposes. However, this was not the end for her as he also used her physical identity to impersonate her to open fraudulent bank accounts.

In case of financial identity theft, which make for three-fourths of the total identity theft cases in India, the loss is most evident. In case of physical and social media identity theft or impersonation, the loss is implicit. The social repercussions are hard to notice for a third party. The individual affected by the theft must bear the results alone. Social damage is hard to contain even if the authorities catch up with the impersonator.

In order to keep the social media or physical identity safe in the digital world, it is important to understand that the identities are related to each other. One form of ID connects to the other form and a threat actor can tap into all these to become you for one purpose or another.

India has still to catch up with the rest of the world to provide a framework for digital privacy to its citizens. In that direction, Privacy has already been declared a fundamental right by the Supreme Court of India. But to truly hand out this right, the framework for law is still in the nascent phase. In this scenario, the responsibility falls on the individual to protect what is hers, and what she is.

Safeguards for you, a lowdown

Use a shredder to get rid of important mail 

One might think that a letter from a government office five years ago is useless, but it is not. There are gold-diggers who will dive into the dumpsters looking for a discarded letter with personal information on it. Shred any letters or credit card statements from the financial institutions too.

Use private search engines

Yes, Google knows a lot about a lot of people. What a person searches for is pretty revelatory. There are private search engines like DuckDuckGo and Search Encrypt that are build to enhance privacy while providing the same service as Google — search whatever you want while remaining anonymous.

Keep a tab on banking alerts

Do not ignore the email or text from the bank you have an account with. Such alerts are generated when money is credited or debited from the account. It might be the case that someone had debited (that’s the case most often) money from your account. You will be able to act fast against it if you get to know about it right away.

Share little personal information on social media

Twitter is great to share thoughts and ideas. Political activism has found a solid platform in the form of social media. Families remain in touch by sharing pictures on Instagram or Facebook. That’s why, social media is at the centre of identity thefts of all kinds. It is important to limit what is being shared there. 

If your birth city is Kapurthala and your security answer to ‘The Place of Your Birth’ is also Kapurthala, then you have done the job for the threat agent already.

Ignore junk email

Not all that ends up in your inbox is important. Never click on unsolicited emails. Phishing is a type of online attack that is done via email. Phishing emails look legitimate and are hard to resist clicking. Just like it is not advisable to accept eatables from strangers while travelling, it is also not recommended to accept emails from strangers. The dangers reveal themselves only after the offer is eaten or the email is clicked. The process is irreversible.

Secure your inbox

Change your passwords atleast once in a year to protect your inbox. Activate two-factor authentication on all your online accounts. Regularly check if the phone number and recovery emails are your own. Never share the password or security questions/answers with anyone. This is especially true if you are in an abusive relationship.

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