What is identity theft?
Identity theft is basically when a person pretends to be somebody else, without that individual’s permission or knowledge to either benefit or cause harm. An identity thief normally takes on another individual’s identity by using their sensitive personal information, which basically includes the person’s address, name, and date of birth and email and social media log-in details.
When most people think of identity theft they imagine someone using another individual’s credit card or bank details to trick the person into buying something or even to steal money from them. But don’t forget that this is actually not the only way it can occur.
Is identity theft illegal?
Identity theft is a crime. It’s illegal to have somebody else’s sensitive personal information with sole intention of committing a crime. It is also illegal to use, give or make somebody else another person’s sensitive information with the sole aim of committing a crime.
How does identity theft happen?
Even if you think something is a harmless prank or just a joke, it could still be a major crime. The following are some examples of identity theft which could easily lead to punishment and criminal charges:
Creating a fake social media profile
Creating a phony social media profile about somebody else may seem like fun, but it can be categorized as identity theft. If you decide to use someone’s personal information to create a fake online profile for the purpose of committing a crime, or even assist in committing a crime, you can face criminal charges. This would actually include harassing or offend someone or even creating a fake account.
You could also be breaking the social media site’s rules of use. A good example is Facebook, it doesn’t allow you to create an account for another person without their permission or even create more than one for an individual. If you choose to break all these rules you are not committing a grave crime but Facebook can certainly stop you from continuing to use its platform.
Hacking into a person’s email or social media profile
It is unlawful to access an individual’s emails, social media profiles or online instant messages using their password or login details without their consent. If you access this information without a person’s permission and you plan to use it to commit a grave crime, such as identity theft, you will certainly face more severe charges. In addition, it’s illegal to change someone else’s login details or even password for an online site without their consent.
Sarah and Jessica go to school together. One day when in the school library, Diana accessed Mary’s password protected email without her consent. Diana had seen Mary’s email password clearly written in her diary when in class. Diana sent an email to everyone in their class pretending to be Mary saying “I hate you all and I am so much better than everyone here”. Mary is now bullied by everyone in her class.
Diana might end up facing criminal charges as she has opened Mary’s secure email account without her consent. She might also face the charges for identity theft.
What will happen to me if I do it?
If you know someone else’s login details and password for online sites and use them or give them to someone else with the aim of committing a particular crime, you could be charged with identity theft and easily face up to seven years behind bars.
Think about the different types of things that are normally password protected on your computer. This basically includes all the work on your school computer, all your emails, and all of the content on your Facebook page. If you get access to somebody else’s protected material without their authorization you could face up to 10 years in jail. If you gain access to somebody else’s password protected content and are thinking of committing a grave crime with that data, then you can easily face more than five years in jail.
What can I do to stop it?
There are a number of ways you can protect yourself against identity theft:
Always monitor your online profile:
If you think that someone may have hacked into your personal account, then immediately change your password and consider deactivating your account. You should also contact the website administrator. Their details are usually on the bottom of the website page.
Stop posting too much sensitive information on your online profile:
If you would not want every person in the world knowing it, then don’t put it online or on a social platform. Remember that any information you put online about yourself could be used to guess the answers to your security questions and also hack into your social media, online messenger accounts or even email.
Always keep your login details for social media and other account safely:
Use different passwords for every website. Don’t use something simple that can easily be thought of like “12345”. Always make your password difficult to crack. The best passwords usually have eight characters or more and should include a number, a capital letter and a symbol. Also, try to avoid telling other people your password.
Be cautious when letting others use your own computer or even when using a public computer:
Make sure that you are always sign out of your social media websites or email account. If you are using a public computer and don’t sign out, other people may be able to access the websites that you had open. Never let your password details to be saved to a computer that is publicly used. When other people use your personal computer, make sure that they don’t access your accounts without your permission.
Be careful when banking or making online purchases:
Only transfer money or make online purchases from websites that are safe and secure. If you feel a website is untrustworthy, then don’t buy anything from it. It is possible that your information could be stored and passed on to other people without your permission.
Be careful when clicking links:
Only click on links to websites that you know are safe. Never download files from websites that you can’t trust.
Be extra vigilant with junk emails:
You may receive emails that say that you have won money or a holiday or an iPad. Be extra careful when giving out your personal information in response to these e-mails. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
What if it happens to me?
Tell an adult that you trust. They will be able to give you advice on whether further action should be taken.
If you’re feeling upset and don’t know who to talk to you can call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 at any time of day or night to chat confidentially with a counsellor.
Record evidence. Print off any fake pages, emails or profiles and store them in a safe place just in case the authorities need them.
Report the identity theft to the website administrator. They may do their own investigation and remove any offending content.
If somebody created a Facebook profile with your personal details, report it to the administrator by:
Going to the timeline of the fake profile
Click the and then select Report/Block
Select Submit a Report
Choose this person is impersonating someone
Follow the on-screen directions to complete your report
In more serious cases contact the police, particularly if the identity theft is ongoing or you are being harassed.
What if I’ve done it?
If you have impersonated someone, then you should contact them immediately to apologize and instantly delete any fake pages or profiles that you might have created.
Talk with an adult that you trust about what you have done. They will be able to give you advice on whether further action should be taken.