Identity theft is a crime in which an impostor obtains key pieces of personal identifying information (PIT) such as social security numbers and driver's license numbers and uses them for his own personal gain. It can start with lost or stolen wallets, stolen mail, a data breach, computer virus, "phishing" scams, or paper documents thrown out by you.
Identity theft may also happen when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It's a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and reputation - and can take time, money, and patience to resolve.
The FBI calls identity theft one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States and estimates that 500,000 to 700,000 Americans become identity theft victims every year. Identity theft is a federal crime which occurs when one person's identification (which can include name, social security number, or any account number) is used or transferred by another person for unlawful activities.
Consequences of identity theft:-
The consequences of identity theft can be staggering. Victims spend extensive time closing bad accounts, opening new ones, and fixing credit records. There can be high out-of-pocket expenses related to clearing your name. You may be denied loans and jobs and, though unlikely, you may even be mistakenly arrested as a result of crimes committed in your name.
Identity thieves frequently open new accounts in your name. They often apply for new credit cards using your information, make charges, and leave the bills unpaid. It is also common for them to set up telephone or utility service in your name and not pay for it. Some victims have found that identity thieves applied for loans, apartments, and mortgages. Thieves have also been known to print counterfeit cheques in a victim's name.
Thieves also often access your existing accounts. They may take money from your bank accounts, make charges on your credit cards, and use your cheques and credit to make down payments for cars, furniture, and other expensive items. They may even file for government benefits including unemployment insurance and tax refunds.
How identity theft happens:-
Four out of five victims have no idea how an identity thief obtained their personal information. Among those who think they know what happened, many believe the identity theft occurred when their purse or wallet was stolen or lost. Thieves also steal identities from the trash - this is called dumpster diving- and it can occur at home, at work, or at a business. Mail can be stolen from your home mailbox, from a drop-box, at businesses, and even directly from postal workers. Home computers can be infected with viruses that transmit your data to thieves.
Group identity theft has become a major problem for consumers. A thief gains access to a place that keeps records for many people. Targets have included stores, fitness centers, car dealers, schools, hospitals, and even credit bureaus. Thieves may either use the stolen identities themselves or sell them to other criminals.
Punishment for Identity theft [Sec. 66C IT Act, 2000]:-
Whoever, fraudulently or dishonestly makes use of the electronic signature, password or any other unique identification feature of any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine which may extend to rupees one lakh.Courtesy:- Legal Point Foundation