Data leaks and identity theft a rising concern

January 30, 2019 | 15:52
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The recent arrest of a Vietnamese national arriving at a French airport once again proves how serious the consequences of personal data leak can be.
data leaks and identity theft a rising concern
In today's interconnected world, companies are creating databases of customers left and right, creating a growing threat of identity theft

Several days ago, Pham Thi Tuyet Mai (Hanoi, 1985) caused a huge stir by sharing on her Facebook account that she was arrested at France’s Charles De Gaulle Airport on last December 18 on suspicion of drug trafficking in Belgium.

Accordingly, the offences in Belgium took place between October 2010 and May 2011, when Mai was actually not in Europe. At the French police station, Mai even provided related documents to prove her innocence. In addition, she also provided documents to prove that she had been working for a Vietnamese firm between May 2010 and May 2012, making it highly unlikely that she was in Belgium at the time.

At the first trial, Mai’s lawyer pointed out that this is a typical case of identity theft, which means that someone stole Mai’s personal data to commit an offence. Mai’s case is a warning call about identity theft which is becoming a growing threat in the digital era.

Global threat

Technology improvements are making people citizens of a global village, where it is far easier to access people’s data. For instance, people provide a host of personal information, including full name, email address, date of birth, phone number, and others to register on Facebook. As a result, Facebook now holds an astounding database of personal data of people across the globe.

Similarly, a large number of websites require users to make accounts to use their services in Vietnam. Breaking into a single one of these databases could result in customers’ identity stolen.

Furthermore, when people go abroad on holidays, hotels also scan their passports. In addition, clinical records in hospitals and personal data stored in companies also pose huge risks. In conclusion, the more places people provide their personal data to, the greater the risks of a data leak and having their identity stolen.

In last March, Facebook was caught up in a huge scandal for mining data from 50 million user profiles for Cambridge Analytica without express approval from users. This data handling was not only widely irresponsible, but in straight contrast to Facebook’s data security obligations. Additionally, it widened unauthorised and unsupervised access to the personal information of affected customers.

According to statistics published by LifeLock – a US-based identity theft protection company, there were 1,000 instances of data leak in England in 2016. Other statistics published by The Harris Poll (a US-based market research company) stated that about 7 million people fell victim to data theft in England in 2017.

What do criminals steal personal data for?

Criminals, to cover their traces, often steal personal data via hacking into websites or social networks to commit offences. The offences include financial scams, tax evasion, e-fraud, and phone scams, among others.

More seriously, criminals can use someone else’s identity to illegally enter a country, engage in smuggling, deal in drugs, and commit other offences – and it may take the victims their entire lifetime to prove their innocence.

In case someone’s identity was used for drug trafficking, he or she would be arrested and placed in temporary detention or put to trial until they can prove their innocence.

Preventing identity theft

At present, there are no ways to completely prevent identity theft because criminals’ arsenal is changing very fast, taking advantage in security holes created by the breakneck speed of technology development. However, to get rid of the risks, pointed out the following steps to protect you from identity theft:

  • Secure your Social Security number (SSN). Don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet. Only give out your SSN when absolutely necessary.
  • Don’t share personal information (birthdate, Social Security number, or bank account number) just because someone asks for it.
  • Collect mail every day. Place a hold on your mail when you are away from home for several days.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. If bills or financial statements are late, contact the sender.
  • Use the security features on your mobile phone.
  • Update sharing and firewall settings when you're on a public wi-fi network. Use a virtual private network, if you use public wi-fi.
  • Review your credit card and bank account statements. Compare receipts with account statements. Watch for unauthorised transactions.
  • Shred receipts, credit offers, account statements, and expired credit cards, to prevent “dumpster divers” from getting your personal information.
  • Store personal information in a safe place.
  • Install firewalls and virus-detection software on your home computer.
  • Create complex passwords that identity thieves cannot guess. Change your passwords if a company that you do business with has a breach of its databases

By Van Anh

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