The Psychology of Identity Theft
One may ask, “Why is there such a huge increase in identity theft fraud?” In order to commit identity fraud, one needs a supply of victims. Additionally, motivated criminals and poor safeguards are also required.
Current advancements in our technology have made certain forms of identity theft relatively simple. It can be nearly impossible to trace the crime back to the criminal. It is also not very expensive to set up this crime. With the widespread exchange of electronic cash, it can be simple for individuals to part with their earnings. But there is more to this problem than the items that were just mentioned.
Placing “distance” between the criminal and the victim
Even with the availability of the current means to commit fraud, one thing stands out. There appears to be a huge supply of identity theft fraudsters. In order to be successful at committing identity theft fraud, two things are needed. The correct skill set to commit the crime is mandatory. There must also be the willingness to be deceptive and target the victims. The most adept identity theft criminal must be completely willing to engage and then betray the trust of another. This trait is actually very rare. It is indicative of a personality disorder that can lead to psychopathic or sociopathic behavior. (See: reference 1)
It is common for fraudsters to use various psychological “tricks” in order to distance themselves. This prevents them from feeling any remorse for their crime. The term that is associated with this behavior is “neutralization”. One related tactic may involve blaming the victim for the crime. For example, thinking that the victim’s “greed” is justification for taking their money. This may be common for scams that use fake claims of money to be transferred. (See: reference 2)
Another psychological trick is to look down upon the victim. This can involve depersonalization. The use of the Internet, telephone or other related devices to perpetrate identity theft helps with distancing. Remote fraud eliminates guilt that would be felt in a face-to-face encounter.
What makes victim easy to fool?
Those who fall victim to identity theft fraud will often assist in their own deception. An effective fraudster will allow the victim to fill out the gaps in a fraud scheme. This is similar to what a magician does when creating an illusion. By leading a victim to their own conclusion, the fraud is far more powerful. This can happen since we wish to believe someone who we feel will help us get more money or prevent danger. We then fill in any loopholes, ourselves. In other cases, more direct communication may be required. (See: reference 3)
Education and/or intelligence are not protections against fraud. Actually, it has been shown that more educated individuals may be more susceptible. This is because they don’t think that they can be easily duped. This type of psychology is evident in the financial market sector. There, trained professionals can be fooled by the illusion that they were in control of a particular financial scenario.
Ways to deal with the psychology of identity theft
Another factor that can be a problem is under-reporting. Victims of fraud may be reluctant to admit that they were fooled by criminal. So, while the victim goes about repairing a damaged credit report, the actual crime may be obscured. This can relate directly to the victim’s self esteem. This can sometimes make it difficult to accept that we have become victims. This can also spark a delay in dealing with the crime.
Protection against fraud
There are many ways to deal with the practical issues surrounding protection against identity theft. These include items such as guarding your personals data, etc. However, there is also a psychological element surrounding identity theft protection. A healthy viewpoint regarding the nature of predators and our own limitations is a good first step. For example, we need to understand that we are not unique entities in the world of the Internet. Therefore, strangers have not somehow located our email in order to give us money.
Additionally, beware if someone or some organization attempts to cause us some type of fear for not acting on their suggestions. In such cases, it is that very person or organization that should be feared. Finally, if you are duped, don’t feel like you’re an idiot. It’s happened to some very intelligent people. Just make sure you make the effort to report the scam as soon as possible.
1. Betrayal of Trust, The Chartered Institute for IT, July, 2007, http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=ConWebDoc.12930
2. Nigerian Scam.net, updated daily, http://www.nigerianscam.net/
3. IRS Warns of e-mail scams about Tax Refunds, IRS.gov, November 30, 2005, http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=151065,00.html