Tuesday, September 19, 2023
    BlogLegal BlogsIdentity theft: A Crime of Modern World

    Identity theft: A Crime of Modern World

    This article on the hot topic of Cyber Crime, i.e. Identity Theft, is written by Adhikar Premier, a law student of G.J. Advani Law College, Mumbai University. Identity Theft by Chinese Apps is a major concern in the mind of whole citizens of nation India. Read about Identity Theft and its consequences.


    Before understanding the concept of ‘Identity Theft’ it is necessary the term identity is comprehensively understood.  Identity in the oxford dictionary defined as, “the fact of being who or what a person is or thing is”. While restraining itself to a person or individuals the word failed to assimilate the wider concept of identity; as in the term identity of the community, social or collective. It did so because such was later developed in the study of sociology.

    Ideally, the first recorded instance of such theft could have dated back to biblical times. And in stories from Wild West days, outlaws sometimes murdered people; so they could take on the identities of their victims; helping them avoid the law. It is a common occurrence through history but the early jurist didn’t define it. 


    Well, an identity of a person is evolving in nature, not only it’s every evolution is valuable to itself; but it is also inalienable in itself. A person with ordinary prudence displays its identity with respect to what is required by society; and attempt to not inter-link and also keeps a part of its identity secret. The purpose is to not expose the whole of self in the social aspect.  But in modern times, “identity theft” is emerging with an object to utilize personal data as a social mask. 

    The trajectory of identity theft leads to crimes of Identity fraud; where a person misuses its identity or others with the intention to procure again; mostly pecuniary. There is a link among these two-term; it is arguable on the definition itself but “identity theft” occurs when someone steals your identity; and “identity fraud” occurs when that person uses your identity to commit fraud, or illegally deceive someone. But the two terms – identity theft and identity fraud – are interchangeable.

    International Aspect

    It is astonishing but the U.S. Department of Justice in its official website says; both terms refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains; and uses another person’s personal data in some way that involves fraud or deception; typically for economic gain. And according to the UK-Home office identity fraud Steering Committee, “Identity theft is also an impersonation fraud”

    Privacy In Techno World

    Technology and the Internet together for the purpose of betterment of human-race coded a cyber-world; which according to the Global digital population – 59% of the world population is a part of it. Such users are termed as a netizen, Billions of them while using website services disclose personal, medical, banking; and other information which is meant to be confidential. Such imperative data inflow makes it easier for cyber-experts with dishonest/ malicious intention to hack and steal them.

    Consequences of Identity Theft

    This Cyber-space since the very beginning has emerged as a ground for cyber-criminals who are actively infringing data rights. Such thief’s ability shouldn’t be undermined as they can grab your personal information; they can empty your bank account, open new utility accounts, exhaust one’s credit card limits; and even get medical treatment on your health insurance.

    They can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. They can obtain a driver’s license, passport, or immigration papers. Can open bank accounts, forge checks, apply for loans and credit cards, and open insurance accounts. They can assume your identity on social media. They might even give your name to the police during an arrest, triggering a legal chain of events; that could affect voluminous areas of life.

    International Behaviour on the matter

    American president George Bush was aware of the consequence a victim’s faces; and thus while passing Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, 2004 stated that;  – “Like other forms of stealing, identity theft leaves the victim poor and feeling terrible violated”. With all on the same web platform, this frightening reality could happen to anyone, from anywhere.

    Offline Presence of this Crime

    Well, Identity theft as a crime is not just limited to online means but also happening in the offline world. The ratio is significantly lower in comparison to online. But the perpetual offline crime of Identity theft is Voter impersonification. Despite various measures to eliminate it; the illicit is still happening and has recently occurred on a large scale in Punjab. It alone reported 669 voter impersonification cases during the 2019-LS election. It can easily be paralyzed, and satisfactory measures are taken to diminish it.

    Reports to be focused

    But the pressing issues are occurring behind the gadget’s screen, these activities are happening on a massive scale. A report by Norton Life Lock, a global leader in consumer cyber safety; stated that nearly 4 in 10 Indian adults have experienced some sort of identity theft in their lifetime. Even the American Bureau of Justice shows statistics; that more than 16.7% of Americans were victims of identity theft in 2017 and one million of those were children.

    Fraud losses totaled $16.8-million. Also according to data gathered by Finanso.se in 2019; 56% of Europeans have experienced at least one type of fraud in the last two years. One-third of them became victims of identity theft, making it the second-most-common type of fraud in Europe. Such facts make it evident about the growing identity crimes across continents.

    Alarming situation around the world

    The distress caused by this crime is exponential, and at any time shouldn’t be undermined by authorities. A data stolen can’t exactly ever be retrieved or deleted permanently if the hacker wipes out digital footprints; it will be impossible to ever control the spread of purloined data. This is been an increasing concern for consumers and managers who interact with online businesses routinely; not just within boundaries but on a global scale.

    The reach of cyber thieves is more than a bullet range; such that a person from distant hideouts in India with adequate net access can steal identities of those; enrolled in Washington bank, USA. This crime is a global problem, and to tackle such United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) formed a multi-stakeholder core group of experts on identity-related crime.

    United Nations & Identity Theft

    It was established in 2007, it met six times between 2007-13, each time it passed a resolution. But given the nature of this UN body; the notable they did was publishing a Handbook on Identity-related Crime in 2011. Which is intended for use by legislators, policy-makers, prosecutors, and law enforcement practitioners, as well as non-governmental stakeholders?
    A body of Consultative platform on identity-related crime was formed; and its aim of bringing together senior public sector representatives, business leaders, international; and regional organizations, and other stakeholders to pool experience, develop strategies, facilitate further research. They agree on practical action against identity-related crime. Given the limitation of the UN organization, the body couldn’t be of significance. 

    Cross-Border Issues

    The International community has experienced a set of cross- border identity thieving; one such target was Former FBI Director Robert Mueller; and the offender was based in the Philippine. Among all, the most famous was Russian cybercriminal Roman Valeryevich Seleznev; who including other cybercrimes committed identity theft and during his trial there came to a gross calculation that; his illegal operation resulted in nearly $51 million losses to people whose identities were stolen.

    With a spike in these crimes, numerous Identity Protection Company has emerged; but the harsh truth is that once your personal data is posted; or linked inter-directly to the web you set yourself exposed. 
    Brianna Jensen, an identity theft expert at ASecureLife.com; said, “Even if our profiles are private and your accounts password-protected; this doesn’t stop someone who really wants your information from gaining access. And putting together all the pieces to create a comprehensive profile”.

    Is there no real protection against it?

    Now-one can fathom that there isn’t exactly any mechanism available to protect thy identity displayed online. With the world population being a user to a few popular sets of web browsers and social apps; the amount of data available is huge. As off- Q1 Results of 2020 shared by Facebook on April 29, 2020; in which it stated that there are nearly 3 billion people actively using Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, or Messenger each month.
    Facebook alone has 2.6 billion people using it; and more than 2.3 billion people using at least one of their services every day; among which 280 million users in India alone.

    With regards to India– Protective measures are limited; as the quality of cyber experts available is minimal; and rest lack of reliable resources; thus it’s futile to have them. In the context of legal jurisprudence; there is a redressal mechanism laid in the Information Technology Act, 2000 for punishing the offender.

    Mostly Section 66 C – of the act which criminalizes such thieving with punishment; which may extend up to 03 years; and shall be fine up to one lakh are charged upon those accused of Identity theft.


    Well, the question that arises is, Is our identity protected? Up to what extend? Are the combating measures sufficient? And with growing technology the required cyber understanding among its user is adequate? 

    Because in India 25.96% are illiterate making such users vulnerable to online identity theft. Notwithstanding the potential for abuse or misuse of stored electronic identity; most Indians (58%) support the use of facial recognition; and 63% of Indians do not know what they will do if their identities are stolen- according to Norton Life Lock’s Survey.

    This is self-explanatory to indicate the doltish approach possessed by online users. Ritesh Chopra, Country Director, Norton Life Lock, India commented; “Headlines of identity theft, data breaches; and online fraud are on the rise and it is crucial that we understand the seriousness of protecting personal information. Digital literacy is the only tool to safeguard oneself from being bamboozled.” 

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