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Information Technology and Identity Theft

Aug 7, 2006
Mary Hobson
Technology Schools Columnist


If you have been a victim of identity theft, you will know just how disruptive it can be. Although you are not responsible for the theft, you can find it very difficult to recover your money and even more difficult to recover your credit rating. The ability to access personal information through technology has given criminals the tools to make this kind of theft all too easy.

Information Technology Makes it Easy

In fact, identity theft is a misnomer. The use of another person's identity information is considered fraud by legal institutions, and the most usual fraud involves credit cards and illegal access to bank accounts. Typically thieves will cull information about your identity and use it to embezzle money. In some extreme cases, mortgages can be taken out using people's name and personal information, allowing the purchase of property or the acquisition of money illegally.

One major factor in identity theft is the ease with which information can be accessed through the Internet. Local government is particularly likely to be open to this kind of access as it has been a policy in recent years to make information transparent and accessible.

Prevention is Better than Cure

So how can this be stopped? Well, the first level of prevention is making sure that sensitive data is not present on the records that are open to the public. Information technology professionals are becoming much more aware of the need to protect some classifications of data from general view, but this need has to be universally accepted. If you find that your local government departments are still showing items such as social security numbers over the Internet, you need to lobby them to make sure they are aware of the potential problems they could be causing.

The information technology industry needs to be sure that this kind of computer security is taken seriously by those in computing jobs. Access codes, encryption, and other security measures are all applicable to protect personal sensitive data, and information technology professionals are becoming more aware of the applicability of these techniques to identity theft.

Educating Professionals

Education may also plays a part in prevention. Technology schools are increasingly aware of the computer security issues, and these institutions may teach students who are going to occupy the relevant computing jobs. Permissions, database design, and other security features have become a part of software and system design; technology schools usually make sure that the computer and IT professionals of the future are well prepared to play their part.

Identity fraud is a crime that can affect anyone, and information technology does not have all the answers. However, a thorough education and the acquisition of security skills and knowledge may all play their part in reducing the incidence of this crime.

Sources
More of Your Information Than You Think Might Be Online
Identity Theft, WikiPedia
How Identity Theft Occurs, Federal Trade Commission

About the Author

Mary Hobson is the Head of IT School at a Polytechnic in New Zealand. She also works as a freelance writer.