Identity theft is a crime that is festering quickly and is rampant not just in India but also worldwide. Simply put, identity theft is said to occur when a person ‘steals’ another individual’s identity and uses it for incorrect means, primarily financial gains. The rot is slowly seeping into the financial system, with fraudsters or identity thieves use personal identification information including another person’s name, address, employment information, bank and credit card information etc. without their permission to commit fraud or other crimes.
Identity theft therefore can occur when using a bank’s ATM, or swiping a debit or credit card at a POS terminal when making a purchase, or even when transacting online. When it comes to cybercrimes (of which identity theft is a part), as per the Information Technology Act 2000, Chapter IX Sec 66C, the punishment includes imprisonment for up to a term of three years as well as a fine that may extend up to Rs. 1.0 lac.
On the financial transaction front, identity theft has been used to open bank accounts, credit cards or even avail of loans by using someone’s identity fraudulently. The repercussion of this is severe, take for instance in the case of a loan if the borrower (the person having stolen the identity) does not repay the outstanding amount, the default will reflect on the credit score of the person whose identity was stolen. In which case, not only will this person’s credit score take a nosedive for no fault of theirs, but they will also be liable to cough up the money towards that loan or card outstanding.
Protect yourself from identity theft
Given the severe nature of this issue, what then should one do to safeguard against identity theft? Well, at the outset it requires each one of us to be aware, to monitor their credit and financial health faithfully at regular intervals, to ensure that one does not fall victim.
Here are a few ways by which you can minimise the risk of identity theft:
Check your credit report – The first thing to do is to check your credit report by calling for a copy from any or all four of the credit bureaus (CIBIL, Equifax, Experian, CRIF High Mark) operating in India today. Go through the report with a fine-tooth comb; understand whether the data reflecting therein is correct. If you believe that there is any sort of inconsistency – say for instance a credit card or loan not availed by you – it is time to contact both the bureau as well as the lender immediately to have the same rectified. This could well be an instance of identity theft if which goes unnoticed, could cost you dearly. Instead, understand how to clear CIBIL issues and keep your credit information safe.
Monitor your bank and credit card accounts – If you see any unusual activity in your bank account or even on your credit card, report the matter to the concerned bank or financial institution without any delay. This includes any cash/ cheque deposits and/ or withdrawals that you have not made, or debits on your credit card towards purchases not made by you. Banks these days do caution customers about phishing (online), vishing (via the phone), smishing (via SMS), credit card skimming and other online attacks, so make sure you pay attention to what’s out there!
Upgrade your browser security – Given that most of our financial transactions are now carried out via the Internet, or using mobile banking apps, it pays to be savvy when it comes to your computer software. Always ensure that your browser security is top-notch and upgraded, and anti-virus definitions are up to date. Further, when you are browsing the internet check for the ‘www.https://’ sign, wherein the ‘S’ signifies that the concerned page is secure. Be especially wary of this when it comes to accessing your bank or credit card account websites.
Destroy paper trails – When you visit an ATM to access your bank account, do you request for printed records of your transaction? If your answer to this question is in the affirmative, be sure that when you exit the ATM, you do not leave this information behind. You should either take the transaction slip with you, or shred it carefully and destroy it before you leave. Do not give someone a chance on a platter, to walk away with your personal and financial details.
Prudent credit card usage – Never leave credit cards at a counter and walk away, or allow the store person who is ringing up your purchase to leave their billing counter and take your credit or debit card with you. If there is a snag, insist that you need to go along as well. Credit cards being chip-enabled already carry your personal information, and with the card number (from the face of the card) and the CVV number (from the reverse of the card), a fraudster can wreak havoc with your finances. Remember that card usage also impacts your credit score, hence monitor your credit report for this as well, and learn how to clear CIBIL issues, should they arise.
The bottom line
Once you have been the victim of financial theft, even if you (thankfully) do not face a financial loss, your credit score is at high risk of being damaged. Hence the one prudent thing to do would be to have it checked regularly and if required, know how to clear CIBIL issues and thereby not allow identity theft to destroy you financially or with regards to your credit history.
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