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IDENTITY THEFT: Protect what matters the most!

It’s comical to watch in a movie where one person takes over another’s life by stealing his identity, but it is nothing less than a horror in reality! Presently, identity theft is more common than ever before, owing to the dawn of the internet, presence of social media and the ever increasing reach of technology and digitalisation. 

“Identity” exists in a person’s name, bank account details, date of birth, photograph, address or any other such information that exclusively belongs to a particular person. Identity theft is carried out to make monetary gains using another person’s details without their consent. It is a kind of crime where the criminal conceals his own identity and poses to be someone else.

It is dangerous because of the silent and fraudulent nature of this crime; you never know when you might become a target to someone’s misdeeds. At any given point of time there may be a person deciding whether or not to steal your identity, looking for a way to steal sensitive information and the perfect opportunity to do so. The motive behind these acts can be to make monetary gains, create terrorism, etc. and eventually cause loss to the victim.

Section 66C of the Information Technology Act, 2000 has made identity theft a punishable offence which invites imprisonment for a term of three years and/or a whopping amount of one lakh rupees as fine.

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QUESTIONS YOU MAY HAVE!

A victim of identity theft has the option to opt for a criminal remedy. However, if one files a criminal case, the guilty person may be fined, imprisoned, or both. A victim can choose to file both a civil suit for compensation and a criminal case to penalise the offender.

The victim must file a petition with the adjudicating officer of the state or union territory where the offence has taken place. A written complaint must be made in the format given along with the rules under the IT Act. The adjudicating officer then hears both the parties, and decides the amount of compensation to be awarded, if any.

The maximum time within which either of the above remedies can be resorted to is three years from the date of commission of the offence. In case the victim was not aware about identity theft being committed against him, then the maximum period of three years is calculated from the date on which he came to know of such offence being committed against him.

Although there is no specific and separate statute enacted in India to address the offence of identity theft, the Information Technology Act, 2000 (“IT Act”) and the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (“IPC”) are applicable to it. Since identity theft necessarily involves the offences of theft, cheating, impersonation and fraud an individual is charged under these provisions of the IPC along with those applicable in the IT Act.

Under the IT Act, identity theft is a punishable offence, i.e. if found guilty, a person is punishable with fine or imprisonment for 3 years, or both. Section 66C makes it illegal to use another person’s electronic signature, password, or any other unique identification feature in a fraudulent manner. In addition, Section 66D makes it a crime to cheat a person by impersonating another person over a computer, or electronic, network device. For both of these, the punishment is imprisonment, which can extend up to three years, as well as fine, with a maximum limit of one lakh rupees.

If any provision of the IPC also apply to a case, then the specified punishment, under the relevant provision of IPC, may also be added along with the punishment under the IT Act.  All applicable IPC offences such as those of theft, cheating, fraud, forgery and so on, have prescribed punishments of imprisonment and fine under the IPC.

Additionally, civil cases can also be filed to seek compensation, if one does not want to resort to a criminal case. For this, the IT Act provides that adjudicating officers can be appointed by the government to decide whether an individual has committed an act against the provisions of the IT Act, which includes identity theft too. For this, a person is only entitled to compensation for his loss, and a penalty in the form of a fine or imprisonment is imposed.

Identity theft is a serious offence which may cause grave harm to a person. A victim must weigh his options with respect to the damage caused to him and seek appropriate remedy accordingly.

Identity theft is an act of wrongfully obtaining an individual’s personal details, in order to misuse it to get wrongful gains – economic or otherwise. Identity theft involves deception and fraud, for the person using the other person’s information does so without any authority or permission.

Identity theft is particularly dangerous because unlike fingerprints which are unique to a person and can’t be used by anyone else, one’s personal data can be used by another. In other words, the perpetrator would essentially be an impostor. Sensitive information such as your bank details, credit card number, telephone number, passwords and other such sensitive information can be misused. This is particularly risky in today’s age of AADHAR cards, which essentially are linked to one’s ID cards, bank accounts, ration cards, and so on.

Identity theft can be used for more serious offences such as illegal immigration, blackmail, stealing money through online banking etc. Illegal immigration is a heightened crime in today’s world, leading to exponential growth of terrorism. A few common methods employed by those who commit identity theft are listed below:

  • Stealing information from email accounts by hacking them;
  • Obtaining information from social networking websites such as Facebook, Tinder etc.
  • Stealing credit cards, debit cards etc. from a person’s wallet
  • Stealing ID cards from a person like Driver’s License, Voter Card, Aadhar Card and so on
  • Sending bogus emails about lotteries or inheritances to lure innocent people into revealing their information
  • Advertising sham job offers

In the stories which surfaced after the Terror attack in Bangladesh in 2016, multiple Facebook profiles of young suspected terrorists went viral. There were mass debates regarding the accessibility of personal information and misuse of the same owing to the fact that young kids have gained access to Facebook, where they meet various kinds of people, disguised as innocent “friends”.