Cyber Security

Online Identity Theft – A Global Problem

December 10, 2013

Bita Beigishah
Identity Theft has become a Global Security Issue

Identity theft has evolved into a global issue, transcending national borders and winding through multi-state proxy networks and diverse rings of conspirators. It is considered the most prevalent problem consumers face today and it shows no signs of going away. If you haven’t personally had your identity stolen, then chances are you at least know one person who has experienced it. The increasing global trend of developing personal and professional online profiles mixed with cyber shopping and convenient, on-the-go banking has set the perfect stage for hackers to exploit a person’s most sacred data for their own gain. Online identity theft has truly evolved into an issue every person who enters the online space faces, yet some countries are still known to be at a higher risk for having their citizen’s identities compromised.

Below is a breakdown of the world’s top countries for producing identity thieves and having their citizens’ identities stolen. As well as the one country that stands as a shining example of how to protect PII.

Russia’s Savvy Hackers Steal the Most Identities

Identity theft is a relatively sophisticated crime in comparison to other forms of larceny. Normally in the case of successfully stealing one’s identity, the thief or thieves at work must be well enough educated to utilize computers. Identity thieves work extensively on an existing Internet infrastructure in order to procure a victim’s credit card numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII).

This need for computer savvy makes it no surprise that Russia’s large tech sector offers some of the world’s most talented identity thieves. In addition, the country’s high unemployment rate has driven thousands of once-promising programmers and software developers into identify theft as a means of supporting themselves and their families. In fact, computer-based identity theft is thought to originate primarily in Russia, where teams of hackers and programmers work to create bot-nets to infect computers all over the world.

In order to implement their attacks, Russian hackers typically aim to control target computers throughout the world with malware and viruses. These computers are then used to steal the PII of victims and to infect other computers, creating an untraceable chain around the world of infected computers and compromised accounts. Once hackers have obtained credit card numbers and identities, they will package those identities up for sale to other criminals in different parts of the world. Russian hackers effectively gain and sell thousands of identities at a time, and it is “lower level” criminals who purchase these identities and use them to open up accounts and make purchases. According to Forbes magazine, credit card fraud operations in the United States buy most of their credit card numbers from hackers in Russia.

United States – The World’s #1 Victim

Identity theft is publically tracked throughout the U.S. and the numbers just keep climbing. While Russia is the leader in producing hackers behind identity theft cases, the U.S. is the leader in having identities stolen.

The IRS expects 1.1 million cases to be reported in 2013 alone. These cases will be in regards to not only adults who had their identities compromised but those of children as well. Additionally, the deceased comprise another 2.5 million theft cases each year. United States consumers have made identity theft the number one complaint throughout the nation for the past 13 years and counting, and there is little sign that this could change for 2013.

Switzerland – The Perfect Example of Protection

While a few bad apples can ruin the bunch, there are still dozens of countries with extremely low identity theft rates as a direct result of their low GDPs and the relative low-penetration of technology and modern banking. However, among the developed world, Switzerland has one of the lowest instances of identity theft thanks to a history of tightly controlled banking and a government initiative to actively combat cyber-crime.

Throughout history, Switzerland has been known as the banking hub of Europe. The anonymity and security of Swiss banks are the primary selling point of the Swiss economy, so banks have a vested interest in preventing identity theft and the compromise of their internal security. Most Swiss banks have complex identity verification methods that can be extremely difficult for hackers and thieves to breach. Requiring bio-metric scans for access to accounts, creating two or three stage passwords, and hiring professional “white hat” hackers are a few of the measures that the Swiss banks have taken. In addition, the Swiss government has an ID and fraud management service and it utilizes some of the most secure government identification measures on passports and local IDs.

Lessons Learned

The best and worst breakdown above shows several factors are involved in cases of identity theft. A major difference lies in the fact that people who steal identities on  a massive scale rarely do so within their own country of operations. While Russian hackers actively secure PII on a massive scale, the Russian people as a whole are not the major targets. Likewise, even though the US people are most at risk of having their identities stolen, fellow U.S. citizens are often times not behind the attacks.

Identity theft is quite simply a crime of opportunity, hackers find targets with large bank accounts and low levels of security, and they use their anonymity as a shield from prosecution. Countries like Russia encourage identity theft by their sluggishness in prosecution and their weak economies, while countries like Switzerland have taken great steps towards preventing their citizens from becoming targets. Overall, national governments can play a major role in stopping or reducing identity theft within their borders, but it is still up to the individuals to educate and protect themselves from the threats they face as much as possible.

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