Adult Victims in Social Media Warfare

Adults, like children, become victims of social media warfare from several sources of attack. These can take the form of harassment, revenge actions, identity theft, fraudulent transactions, and having computers or phones hacked. Children can certainly be targets of the same sort of attacks but the major concerns about children, including cyberbullying, sexual exploitation, kidnapping, and child pornography, are covered in Chapter 11: “Child Victims in Social Media Warfare.” This chapter examines some of the ways adults are harmed by other individuals who use these adverse social media warfare tactics against them.

Theft of Adult Identities

In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act to address the increasing problem of identity theft. The act specifically amended Title 18, U.S. Code, Section 1028 to make it a federal crime to “knowingly transfer or use, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable state or local law.”

Congress also passed the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act in 2004 establishing penalties for aggravated identity theft, which is, using the identity of another person to commit felony crimes, including immigration violations, theft of another’s Social Security benefits, and acts of domestic terrorism. The act requires courts to sentence offenders to two additional years for a general offense and five years for a terrorism offense.

It is difficult to provide a precise assessment because different law enforcement agencies may classify identity theft crimes differently, and because identity theft can also involve credit card fraud, Internet fraud, or mail theft, among other crimes. The FBI has dealt with criminals faking identifications (IDs) for decades, from check forgers to fugitives on the run. Now, the threat is more pervasive and the scams include Internet and social media warfare elements. The FBI uses both its criminal investigation and cyber resources to identify and stop criminal groups in their early stages and to root out the many types of perpetrators.

Along with names, Social Security numbers (SSNs), and dates of birth, fraudsters also use Medicare numbers, addresses, birth certificates, death certificates, passport numbers, financial account numbers (e.g., bank account, credit card), passwords (e.g., mother’s maiden name, father’s middle name), telephone numbers, and biometric data (e.g., fingerprints, iris scans) to commit identity theft.

Some of the more prevalent schemes used by criminals to steal identities include suspicious e-mail or phishing attempts to trick victims into revealing personally identifiable information; smash and grab burglaries involving the theft of hard copy driver’s licenses, credit cards, check books, and so on; and computer and network intrusions that result in the loss ofpersonally identifiable information (PII) [1].

Many people do not realize how easily criminals can obtain an individual’s personal data without having to break into their homes. If residents receive applications for pre-approved credit cards in the mail, but discard them without tearing up the enclosed materials, criminals may retrieve them and try to activate the cards for their use without their knowledge. Also, if personal mail is delivered to a place where others have ready access to it, criminals may simply intercept and redirect your mail to another location.

The Internet has become an easily accessible place for criminals to obtain identifying data, such as passwords or even banking information. Many people respond to spam e-mail that promises them some benefit but requests identifying data, without realizing that in many cases, the requester has no intention of keeping his promise. In some cases, criminals reportedly use computer technology to obtain large amounts of personal data.

With enough identifying information about an individual, a criminal can take over that individual’s identity to conduct a wide range of crimes: false applications for loans and credit cards, fraudulent withdrawals from bank accounts, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards, or obtaining other goods or privileges that a criminal might be denied if he were to use his real name. If the criminal takes steps to ensure that bills for the falsely obtained credit cards, or bank statements showing the unauthorized withdrawals, are sent to an address other than the victim’s, the victim may not become aware of what is happening until the criminal has already inflicted substantial damage on the victim’s assets, credit, and reputation [2].

Once identity thieves have an individual’s personal information, they can drain their bank account, run up charges on credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on someone else’s health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in their name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give some else’s name to the police during an arrest. There are several clues that individuals can watch for that may mean an identity has been stolen:

  • ? Withdrawals from a bank account that cannot be explained.
  • ? Routine bills and other mail is not being delivered.
  • ? Merchants refuse checks.
  • ? Debt collectors call about debts that are not explainable.
  • ? Unfamiliar accounts or charges on a credit report.
  • ? Medical providers bill for unexplainable services.
  • ? A health plan rejects legitimate medical claims because the records show the policy has reached its benefits limit.
  • ? A health plan will not provide coverage because medical records show a condition an individual does not have.
  • ? The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notifies a taxpayer that more than one tax return was filed in a name, or that there is income from an unknown employer.
  • ? A notice is received that information was compromised by a data breach at a company where an account is active [3].

The IRS uses an SSN to make sure the tax return form that a person is filing is accurate and complete and that the person receives any refund due. Identity theft can affect how a tax return is processed. An unexpected notice or letter from the IRS could alert people that someone else is using their SSN; however, the IRS does not start contact with a taxpayer by sending an e-mail, text, or social media message that asks for personal or financial information. If people receive an e-mail that claims to be from the IRS, they should not reply or click on any links. Instead, forward it to This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it If someone uses a person’s SSN to file for a tax refund before they do, the IRS might think the person already filed and received a refund. When the proper owners of the SSN file their return later, IRS records will show the first filing and refund, and the victims of identity theft will get a notice or letter from the IRS saying more than one return was filed for that SSN.

If an identity thief uses a stolen SSN to get a job, the employer may report that person’s income to the IRS using the stolen SSN. When the SSN proper owner files a tax return, he or she will not include those earnings. IRS records will show he or she failed to report all their income. The agency will send a notice or letter saying the individual received wages but did not report them. Individuals should contact the IRS immediately. Specialists will help to get tax returns properly filed and individuals will get any refund they are due [4].

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