As the cyber world unveils websites that let you live a 'second life', fake identities and identity thefts are fast emerging a menace giving spurt to hate mails and even serious crimes.
Identity theft remains unrecognised by many Indians, but many may already be becoming targets even without realising it, experts say.
One of the fastest growing crimes in the developed nations like United States, it is spreading in developing economies too. According to a website that monitors cyber crimes, in 2006, identity theft complaints made up thirty seven per cent (37 per cent) of all fraud complaints.
With extensive use of social networking sites in India, the young population chatting for hours, however is unaware of the risks involved. Sharing personal information on social networking sites like Orkut, Tagged, hi5, etc. Can be hazardous. The delinquents will have no difficulty in using someone's personal information for their vested interest, cyber experts say.
There has been number of cases reported in the country where the people were cheated after sharing their personal information on Internet. Latest among them is one of a youth from Mumbai who was murdered, after pals on the net abducted and then killed him, having won his confidence through the network chatting.
"People discuss sex, try to find a dating partner or indulge in 'cyber romance,' falling prey to social networking sites.
As a result, most of them undergo emotional abuses and have long lasting psychological effects. At least ten victims visits my clinic everyday seeking counselling on 'abuses' they had experienced on vast net-world," says Dr Roma Kumar, Clinical Psychologist with Sri Ganga Ram Hospital.
"Youngsters, mostly school goers are unaware of the risk involved in sharing personal details on Internet. Some do it for fun rest to explore answers to their queries. But most of them later suffer owing to ignorance and lack of information," she says.
"We receive 10-20 cases of identity thefts mainly on cyberfrauds monthly. The cases of cyber-crimes are increasing in the country," says Sanjay Singh, CEO of Indian Detective Agency. "We get number of inquiries asking us for the tips to protect against identity theft," he adds.
"Once I got a call from a person asking me about legal proceedings pertinent to cyber crimes. He was actually duped by an imposter who posed herself as a Bollywood actress and asked him some money citing personal reasons and said that she (Imposter) would marry him, if he agrees to pay the asked amount. That person got carried away and deposited money in the bank account given to him. Later, as obvious, it was found to be a cyber fraud and he was robbed off with his money", says G Venkatesh Rao, a Supreme Court lawyer.
"People should be careful while using networking sites. They should avoid using very personal information like mobile number, credit card and bank account detail, date of birth to avoid identity theft," says Rao.
"All laws related to cyber crimes including those of identity thefts by means of transactions carried out by electronic data interchange and other means of electronic communication are contained in Information Technology Act, 2000," he says.
"Though, harsh punishment to offenders, Protection through Internet Service Providers and generating awareness among masses can be a better solution, But personal awareness and following net-etiquette will be a permanent remedy to it," Rao adds.
There have been many incidents of identity thefts including those of 'Phishing' (hoax mails) but most of them go unreported as people either do not take it seriously or are simply ignorant of the possible damage, say experts.
"I was quite disturbed after receiving credit-card bill, issued in my name and address, of more than Rs 15,000. What was more surprising is that I didn't have any credit card at all. It was just a month after I applied for one with the bank", says Vindhyachal Pandey, an executive with a telecom firm.
"Although in the year 2006 only, a total of 335 phishing incidents were reported by various National and International agencies. On an average 28 incidents in a month. There was progressive increase of phishing incidence noticed in the second half of the year," says Anirban Sen Gupta, Principal Consultant with a consulting firm with worldwide presence.
"On contacting bank for further information I was told that the credit card in my name was issued five days after submission of my application and the concerned courier service had my acknowledgement proving delivery of the card. I was helpless and decided to take help of a detective agency to probe in to the matter," says Pandey.
There are many like Vindhyachal who are approaching detective agencies to investigate identity thefts.
Experts categorise Identity theft into four - Identity Cloning (using another's information to assume his or her identity in daily life), Business/Commercial Identity Theft (using another's business name to obtain credit), Financial Identity Theft (misusing another's name) and Criminal Identity Theft (posing as another when apprehended for a crime).
Many leading companies being required to pay hefty compensation to the victims whose personal information has been stolen by hackers. Even companies incur great loss due to these identity hackers as they damage websites after cloning it and then by making unauthorised changes.
According to Gartner Survey, the financial losses from phishing attacks stood around $ 2.8 Billion in the year 2006.
"The most widespread phishing attacks reported were carried out against e-commerce sectors which include online retailers and auction sites. The second most targeted sector was banks including financial institutes that accounted for 24 per cent of the total number of incidents reported in 2006," says Anirban.