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What Is Computer Identity Theft?

Committing computer identity theft can result in a stiff prison sentence and a fine.
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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 16 April 2014
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Computer identity theft occurs whenever a person's personal information is taken by an outside party and that data is fraudulently used. Identity theft has become an epidemic of sorts, happening to thousands of victims each year. Many police departments and government agencies have taken on the responsibility of tracking down and prosecuting these criminals, but identity thefts continue.

Online predators have a multitude of ways to perform computer identity theft on innocent victims. After a person's personal data is harvested, there are a number of ways that the hackers can use that information for illegal purposes. The results can be catastrophic for victims, but there are ways to combat these threats.

There are three major ways that computer identity theft occurs, though criminals continually invent new methods. Two of the most prevalent, but easiest to avoid, are email scams and fraudulent websites. Thieves will send emails or create websites that promise great deals or incredible insight. By clicking these links, computer users open up their computer to hackers who can search a user's browser and keystroke history to retrieve names, addresses, social security numbers, credit card numbers, bank accounts and more.

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Many computer identity theft crimes happen by users not protecting themselves appropriately. Even if fraudulent emails and sites are avoided, hackers can pull out that same information. Some criminals prey on wireless Internet hotspots to infiltrate a person's computer and pull out data. Luckily, updating a computer's security and avoiding unsecured wireless Internet connections can help minimize this risk.

The results of computer identity theft are far-reaching and are used for many purposes. The most common purpose is applying for credit cards and bank loans using the victim's information. Many criminals also use this personal information to pose as that person when a crime is committed. Another common type of identity theft scam is to use the victim's medical information to obtain prescription drugs illegally.

Computer users are urged to be cautious when online, because theft can affect them in many ways. A fake credit card can ruin a credit rating, and illegal access to a bank account obviously can result in losing funds. Also, if a stolen identity is used for crimes, the victim can become tangled in a legal dispute with which they originally had nothing to do.

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