Identity theft on the increase in alarming numbers

| 22 April 2014


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Anyone who has ever had their bank account or email account hacked and lost personal information will bear testament that it is one of the most invasive criminal activities.

When they break into your home for example at least there are clues and police may even trace the thieves based on the evidence they leave behind.

When it comes to our digital lives, online hackers are so smart these days that very few clues are left behind.

Today we are sharing more information than ever before digitally. Many people have their entire life stored in the cloud. Photographs, videos, personal digital documents and basically an entire lifetime of our identity are stored on some kind of device or in the cloud.

As we approach a world of ubiquitous connectivity it is becoming normal to simply rely on the internet to keep everything safe.

But how secure are our lives online? How trusting are we of services that are meant to keep our personal details in a safe environment?

In the last few months there have been dozens of reports relating to high profile data thefts online. Last week more than 100 million South Korean credit card numbers and accounts were stolen in what is seen as the largest security breach to date in South Korea.  So large was the breach, that even the country’s President Park Geun-hye and the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon had their credit card information stolen.

Earlier this year the US retailer Target revealed that more than 40 million debit and credit cards had been stolen. They also revealed that close to 70 million accounts were compromised and had personal information like addresses and telephone numbers stolen.

The Pew Research Centre is a nonpartisan fact tank that does research on attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. Recently they released some interesting research on how many Americans had experienced a personal data breach. The numbers are cause for concern.

They analysed data between January 2013 and January 2014. At the beginning of 2013 they found that 11 percent of internet users had some kind of personal information stolen. This number had jumped to 18 percent in 2014. That is almost one fifth of internet users in the United States that have had some kind of digital theft. These thefts include credit card numbers, social security numbers and even bank account information.

Of those surveyed 21 percent had an online account compromised versus 20 percent a year ago. These breaches included email accounts that were hacked as well as social media accounts.



Two weeks ago the Heartbleed bug revealed a security flaw on servers which affect almost 2/3 of the Internet’s servers. Thankfully, many of these servers have been patched but what is unclear is how much data has already been stolen.

We need to become more vigilant and aware of our online activities. Internet users need to be less trusting of some of their activity online. For example,changing passwords regularly is critical in protecting oneself online. Only shopping at reputable online retailers is another precaution to deterring credit card theft. Physical documents that arrive by post should not be discarded in a bin without being shredded. Oversharing on social networks and befriending people you don’t know could make you vulnerable online. Your personal information should be guarded at all times. Don’t just trust anyone with it!


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