Online Identity Theft – More Common than you Think

by ShelbyW on November 7, 2012

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There’s no doubt that the Internet has helped millions of people around the world, but it has also opened up the door for criminals to victimize people in new ways. As a result, one of the newest and most dangerous threats to your security is online identity theft. Each year, identity thieves harm the lives of many thousands of people, and in some cases, you might be a victim and not even realize it until it’s too late.

Types of Identity Theft

Identity theft comes in many forms, but one of the most common types is take-over fraud. In this type of crime, a thief will obtain personal information about an individual, and then he or she will pose as the individual in order to gain access to various online accounts, including bank accounts. Additionally, identity thieves also obtain personal information about victims in order to fraudulently open accounts in the victim’s name. In these types of crimes, the victim may not know that he or she has been the target until he or she begins receiving collection notices from companies that the criminal did business with in the victim’s name.

How Identity Thieves Operate

Because of the anonymity and convenience of the Internet, most identity thieves prey upon people who are trusting. In some situations, an identity thief may send out emails that appear official to victims requesting personal information, also known as phishing. In other situations, a criminal may set up a website that looks official, but it’s really a trap to trick victims into giving up information. Finally, some criminals will simply turn to hacking to break into personal and business computers to steal information.

If You’ve Been a Victim

Unfortunately, our Virginia criminal attorney who has represented many clients charged with these white collar crimes, informs us that identity theft can be difficult to prove, and in cases where it can be proven, the process can take weeks or even months. If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, it’s important for you to contact all financial institutions with which you have dealings to alert them of the situation. You may also consider freezing your credit for the time being in order to avoid any further damage. Most financial institutions will be willing to work with you in order to track down the truth, but again, this process may be long and intensive.

Protecting Yourself Online

If you’re interested in protecting yourself from online identity theft, there are a number of simple steps you can take. First, never open attachments or click on links contained in suspicious emails. Additionally, never send personal information, including account numbers, through email. If you visit a website and it is requesting personal information, always do your research first, and if something doesn’t seem right, make a note of it, close your browser and contact the authorities.

It’s also important to remember that online identity thieves don’t just stop at stealing identities. In some cases, they may use viruses to infect the computers of innocent people, ultimately turning these individuals into unwitting accomplices. This means that even if you don’t give your personal information to an identity thief, your computer may be sending out phishing emails without your knowledge.

If you’re concerned about any suspicious activity taking place on your computer or through your Internet connection, look online or in your local phone book for a cyber security professional in your area to help you investigate the problem.

Legal researcher Shelby Warden contributes this article to support efforts by the Virginia criminal attorney team at Price Benowitz, LLP to help you avoid becoming a victim of online identity theft. Having successfully represented many clients charged with white collar crimes, including unwitting accomplices, they have the experience and knowledge that is needed to challenge these federal investigations.

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