What is identity?

Before we can take any action to protect an identity against theft, fraud and disclosure, we must first know what the word "identity" means.

Businesses use certain personal information associated with each person to identify that person for approving some transactions such as when opening new credit accounts, making changes to existing accounts or making purchases with credit cards.

Such personal information which can be stolen and used for fraud and other gainful purposes is called exploitable identity component. Therefore, not all personal information or identity components a) are private information, b) can be used to commit fraud, or c) need protection. Such personal or private information could be something we have (passport or ID card), something we know (passcode), or something we are (finger print). These identity components alone or combined with other identity components are used to verify the identity of a person.

Depending on where a person lives or does, an identity may be made up of more than one component. There are certain identity components which apply to all individuals living in a certain country such as a social security number issued for all US citizens. However, not every one has a student ID, gym membership, phone, passport or even a driver’s license. These components (alone or combined with others) can be used for validating the identity of a person although businesses and government agencies have their own preferred list of valid identity components for verifying and approving transactions.

As mentioned, certain identity components are more valuable than others as they can be used for fraud purposes depending on the original reasons for the identity theft. Although, some valuable identity components may not be initially misused because the original objective for stealing an identity was not to commit fraud such as when a car is stolen to sell its parts along with its contents, these identity components can be later abused when identity thieves discover their usefulness for accessing cash or consumer goods. Some identity components used for validating an identity include:

Social security card number, birth certificate, death certificate, marriage certificate, car registration card, passport, ID card, driver’s license, gym membership card, credit cards, debit cards, student ID, deeds and titles, etc.

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