Muscat: Throwing away mail or documents containing personal information can pose a threat to your security and can lead to identity theft.
One example is Mohammad Islam (name changed), an aspiring marketing manager, who was left aghast when his girlfriend broke up with him following nasty messages she believed he had sent to her. It turned out that someone had stolen documents from him, thrown them into a trash can, and then hacked into his e-mail account to send the offensive messages. Later, he discovered his roommate was the culprit.
According to experts, this is not a one-off case. There has been an alarming spurt in cases of identity theft in Oman, which involves stealing someone's personal details to access resources or obtain benefits in that person's name or to misuse the victim's details for nefarious purposes.
Experts acknowledged that identity theft cases are on the rise in Oman, and in most cases, the victims were individuals who had thrown letters or documents containing important personal information into the trash. They could not find out that their identity had been stolen until they received suspicious statements from service providers. By then, however, the damage was done, and undoing it posed a major challenge.
Speaking to Times of Oman, Jose Chacko, chief executive officer of ANA Global Forensics, cited recent statistics as suggesting that 50 per cent of financial fraud cases occur as a result of identity theft, and this number is increasing due to technological advances.
"I have noticed widespread insurance fraud, both medical and non-medical, in Oman, apart from credit card fraud through identity theft. Most Middle East countries have recorded an increasing rate of cyber crimes, due to which government bodies such as the computer emergency response team, have been advised to be more vigilant," he said.
ANA Global Forensics handled more than 15 cases of economic crimes in Muscat in 2012.
As for self-protection, Chacko pointed out that education and awareness campaigns are the only way out. "We should start lessons in school since our children are more likely to casually disclose their identities.
It is a good idea to restrict and monitor the online activities of children. Public awareness is required for identity theft and social-engineering techniques that are widely practised. Creating the first identity is difficult; subsequent identities will be easier. People should be aware of skimming devices and should be on guard at mall counters, ATMs, hotels, etc," he added.
Unrestricted online activity is the biggest challenge these days. "Be sensible while you are online," he stated.
The potential for identity theft is one of the main reasons why many people are opting to shred confidential documents.
"Once your personal materials are thrown into a trash can, recycling container, or dustbin, those documents are no longer considered private, no matter how sensitive they are," confided an official who runs a document-shredding business in the Sultanate.
However, Chacko asserted that shredding confidential documents will not be much help. "We can restrict the printing of documents that contain confidential information. However, your online activities are always recorded somewhere, and from there, fraud can start," he summed up.