Identity Theft: Its Cause & How to Root it Out

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2 years ago

Identity Theft and Its Cause

The ultimate crime is probably identity theft. It is the fastest growing crime in the world, and maybe it is already by far the most common. It is committed on many levels and most times it is probably undiscovered by the victim.

The most simple form of ID theft is when someone is sending out spam and sets your email address as the sender. This is not normally classified as identity theft, but in reality it is, albeit of the lowest degree. The only information the "thief" would need to have then, is your email address. Given the level of information about you the thief can obtain, more compromising abuse can occur.

The worst is when someone can take your whole identity and verify it. Each time you provide someone with a photocopy of an ID-document, you open yourself for high scale ID-theft. Many offshore structures are set up only for the purpose of getting photocopies of peoples' passports, and even reputable banks offshore are known to let privacy seeking customers open accounts in the name of some other of the bank's clients - using that person's documentation. It is not far-fetched to estimate that stolen identities are holding quite a large amount of the world's private assets and making about the same proportion of all private transactions. Yet only in exceptional cases does the victim notice anything. But the consequences can be dire. Your ID could be used to transfer drug money or for anything associated with terrorism.

If you have the expertise, you can do much with a stolen passport (or a photocopy of one). Owning property, making bank transfers, getting married, getting loans and even getting legal travel documents from certain countries. I am not going to explain how, due to the risk for abuse - but be warned! Do not spread photocopies of ID-documents around you indiscriminately! If you have to provide one, be sure to know to whom you are submitting it.

Paradoxically, ID theft is not going to decrease by more identity checks and more databases full of personal data. Just the opposite. The databases are providing an ID thief (or other criminal) with profiling information about you, so in reality they are facilitating the crime, maybe one could say that they are a prerequisite.

The increasing amount of situations where you must prove your identity is the direct reason for the need for ID theft. You can not stop crime by making anonymity impossible. Just by that fact, that anonymity is in many instances made impossible, makes it necessary for the criminals to find other solutions. They steal identities. So instead of getting rid of the original crimes, they still flourish, and the number of victims of them are unchanged. The only consequence is that now a new group of victims are added too - the people who get their identities stolen! The more controls, the more victims, the more suffering of innocents.

How to stop Identity Theft

The technique to take and analyse fingerprints revolutionised police work, and more burglars were arrested since. Right?

Wrong! This was true for a very short time when this was new, but the burglars soon learned to use gloves. Then it lost its importance in this context.

If the police may tap telephones and read emails, they will reveal more crimes. Right?

Wrong! When the real criminals are aware that this is done (or even suspect it), they either use encryption, code or some other way to hide the contents of their phone calls and emails - or they stop using these, finding other means of communication.

In all such matters, the long-term frequency of the relevant crime is not affected by this strategy, neither is the number of solved cases. Yet this is the major argument for every privacy-limiting measure taken by Big Brother! Surveillance does not reduce crime, it just complicates the lives of the innocent.

So how to deal with ID-theft? We have seen that the more we try to check identities and information, the more identity theft we will get. The radical solution is to abolish identification of individuals in most cases, and to stop, even outlaw, collection and storage of personally identifiable information. In a previous article, "Antiterrorism: Fight a Monster and Become a Worse Monster", I tried to sketch some ideas on how that can be done.

(This article is based on material previously published in Meriondho Leo.)

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Read also: What You Need to Know about Copyright

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