Identity theft a real concern

Every other day, it seems, we open the newspaper to read about the ways in which the Internet is affecting businesses and altering industries. Yet one enterprise that’s been largely left untouched are the companies that sell the combination mustache-glasses disguise. You know the ones — bushy eyebrows atop black frames. They’re the kind of trinket you might find at, say, your dentist’s paper treasure chest or in a third grader’s party favor bag.

Though I can’t say for sure, I would imagine the advent of the Internet hasn’t exactly been a boon for the makers of said disguise. On the face of it, the two seem unrelated enough. One is a throwaway, probably “Made in China,” gimmick that never quite fit my face right. The other is, well, the Internet, which fits my face a little better, especially when I use a filter. Seemingly different, the two are related, albeit tenuously.

It comes down to identity. The waiting room glasses represent a cursory means for changing your identity. The Internet has offered a new ability to change your identity that makes the glasses look irrelevent and certainly even more cursory.

Like those creepy (but effective) commercials show, you don’t have to change your physical experience to steal one’s identity. You don’t even have to leave your computer. It all can be done with a simple click (OK, it’s probably more likely that it would take a few clicks but you get the point).

As I mentioned in an earlier column, I discovered that my virtual identity had been co-opted when I searched my name (yes, you can make fun of me) on Twitter to look for a tweet. When I searched for my handle @danielrothberg, it was interesting to find that someone had the same handle but with an underscore tacked onto the end — theirs was @danielrothberg_. What was more interesting, however, was that the imposter handle had the same avatar I’d been using for my real account.

Forgetting why I’d ever searched for myself to begin with, I clicked on the phony account. It also had my cover photo and more alarmingly my biography. In fact, at a glance, it was almost impossible to tell them apart — but then you read the tweets.

The content on my actual Twitter account primarily consists of interesting news stories and the occasional humorous quote. But my imposter account was a different story.

From time to time, according to my fake Twitter, I “look at myself in the mirror and randomly start twerking #isthatweird.” Perhaps weirder than my desire to wake up like Miley is that on June 12, I apparently wanted to “sneak into the church nursery and eat all the cookies #PastoralConfessions.” Did I mention that I got tickets to the Jesse McCartney and Backstreet Boys concert? Front row!

This is a form of identity theft in the 21st century.

Eventually, I was able to report the imposter account. Twitter required I use a fax machine, which is something I don’t have and don’t know many people who do. It’s never occurred to me that I would need a fax machine. Not owning one seems more of a 20th-century fear, in my opinion. But I digress.

I found a fax machine a few weeks later and my first experience of identity theft, as trivial as it was, was over.

I’m acutely aware that my incident was a very minor one compared to those who have had their credit card numbers, social security number, or medical insurance information stolen. These financial crimes are, in almost every case, more damaging than a fake social media account.

But, in every case, identity theft requires no tacky mustache-eyeglass disguise. To a certain extent, that’s been true forever. You could still claim to be someone else, using a stolen credit card or social security number. Yet, with the added benefit of hiding behind the computer screen, it’s true today to a greater degree than ever before.

The problem is widespread. According to the U.S. Department of Justice and Javelin Strategy & Research, more than 11.5 million Americans are victims of identity fraud annually.

So it’s important to take steps to curb identity theft on the Internet.

And I’m not talking just about of more serious cases of ensuring stores requiring a photo ID at every purchase. For the prevention of financial identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends reading bank statements often, knowing when they are due and shredding sensitive documents.

It’s perhaps a bit more difficult to actively take preventative measures to protect your personal identity when it comes to fake accounts and on social networks. But as much as I hate to say it, in this case, a vanity search might go a long way.


Daniel Rothberg is a junior majoring in political science. His column “Twenty-First Century Fears” runs Thursdays.

 Follow him on Twitter @danielrothberg