Online Identity Theft: A Quick Lesson

Common Methods of Identity Theft:

In the United States there are currently 100 billion emails sent, in a business capacity alone, daily. If this trend continues, by next year that number will have risen to 135 billion e-mails sent and received per day. While it remains one of the most important methods of communication throughout the world, it’s not the safest. In fact, it is one of the most efficient ways for facilitating identity theft and fraud. From phishing schemes to malware and other unintentional means of providing personal information, there are numerous pitfalls to avoid when surfing the World Wide Web.


The IRS defines Phishing as: Phishing (as in “fishing for information” and “hooking” victims) is a scam where Internet fraudsters send e-mail messages to trick unsuspecting victims into revealing personal and financial information that can be used to steal the victims’ identity:

  • ‍Many potential identity thieves attempt to use IRS credentials via e-mail to seize information from you. They will present themselves as good intentioned employees of the IRS looking to warn you about fraudulent attempts made with your information. They may even ask you to confirm your information with them to make sure you yourself are not attempting to commit identity fraud.
  • The IRS has compiled a list of previous attempts that have been brought to their attention, which can be found here.

Always remember to never provide personal information without confirming the identity of the person contacting you. Generally, this kind of fraud is reparable but also incredibly easy to avoid.

Spyware and Malware

Malware, short for malicious software, is a blanket term for any manner of virus or spyware that attempts to steal personal information in order to commit fraud or other possibly criminal activity. Some common methods of unintentionally downloading this software are:

  • ‍Appealing websites: May offer giveaways or prizes as an incentive to coerce unsuspecting people into providing their personal information. They, more than likely, will provide links prompting you to navigate to another page for registration. One simple link can lead to a download of this dangerous software.
  • E-mail links: This is one of the most common delivery systems for this kind of software. You may receive an e-mail making similar offers as the aforementioned websites and asking you to click certain links. They may even attach the software to an e-mail that instantly begins downloading upon opening.