Looking for Ways to Steal an Identity?

I noticed in reviewing the statistics of this blog and my other ID Theft Research related web sites that there is a growing number of surfers finding my blog / webs through searching for terms like “how to steal an identity”, “easy identity theft” and “ways to steal an id.”  This tells me that either consumers are becoming proactive and trying to learn from other people’s mistakes and pitfalls – or there is a growing number of people out there who are getting turned-on by the media to the idea of identity theft for fun and profit!  What I fear turns some would-be criminals on to the idea of ID theft is that the media generally portrays the crime as relatively easy to pull-off, lacking any significant punishment, and even lucrative!  And I would agree that it may be attractive to lesser souls who feel comfortable with this type of crime (much of which can be accomplished via a computer, out of site).  Certainly the media has made sure that the public knows just how rampant the crime of ID theft has become – while also making it clear that our federal, state and local governments / law enforcement don’t have a handle on the problem!!

So, when you type something like “how to steal an identity” into Google – what do you get?  The top listings are inevitably links to articles about identity theft, with some references to papers or books on the subject and landing pages of parked web sites offering adsense links and other junk-per-click.  How long until we see a web site appear at the top of the list that is an actual guide to stealing identities (similar to popular hacker or keygen web sites)?  Not long I would guess – and perhaps there are already a network of such sites out there just waiting to be discovered….  Sad, but true.

I’ll continue to watch this trend .  I’d appreciate your comments or thoughts / complaints on this subject as well.

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What is Your Identity Worth?

No, I’m not talking about your “personal identity” philosophically, daily affirmation and all that.  I’m also not talking about your personal “brand.”  I’m talking about cold, hard, cash (or credit….)!  Recently I’ve noticed that the media has reported on several cases where people have been charged with a crime for SELLING their identity.  I am not contesting the legal issues presented for selling federal documents.  But it is interesting to think that perhaps there is a black-market being created for the sale and purchase of identities, and this got me thinking about what a “good” identity would be worth.  And, by the way, is the act of selling your identity any different than selling your blood, sperm, or other physical attributes?

There are plenty of statistics published indicating the average cost per victim of identity theft, and the cost to retailers and financial institutions – and even what the FBI charges for investigating identity theft cases.  But I haven’t run across any numbers that would indicate the true value of an identity.  I have read that criminals can purchase personal information to put together identities for a couple of bucks – but that hardly represents the true value to the criminal. The statistics published by the FTC and other government and financial agencies don’t provide the whole picture to be able to say what an identity is worth.    I am thinking not of the cost of becoming a victim, but what the value of an identity is before becoming a criminal statistic.  In the several articles I’ve read, the identities were sold for a couple hundred bucks or less…. seems like a bargain considering how much credit card debt alone could be accomplished before being shut-down! However, if I were in the market to purchase an identity, I would want to pay fair price – and not find out that the ID I purchased can’t produce the amount of credit or financial gain that I expected….  So this led me to the following line of thinking.

My thinking is that an identity would have a value in line with the ability for the identity (independent of physical presence of owner) to generate income.  This would mean that someone with a high credit score, SSN, home ownership and decent paying job would be much more valuable than say a pre-teen with no credit history, an SSN but no residence or employment history.  But even then the pre-teen identity could be valuable in non-financial ways – illegal immigrants who need an SSN to work in the U.S., etc.  And someone who has bad credit, judgements, criminal history, low-paying or no job, and rents an apartment would have a very low value identity since even if someone had all details of the person’s “history” they would probably not be able to reap much financial reward.  But let’s say that bad or low-value identity is resold many times to those simply looking for a new name and SSN (most likely illegal immigrants)?  The original owner may still be able to reap a small reward selling their ID for $100 a pop….

Maybe I’m overthinking this….  Anyone else either run across a useable number for the value of an identity – or have thoughts on how to calculate?

Or — What do you think your ID is worth???  You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine!!!

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Steal My Identity — Please!

LOL.  What other way can our society get out of the debt that we’ve wracked-up over the years?  Can’t someone please take our ID’s so that we can all get new ones???  🙂 At least we could then claim ignorance, write-off the debt as the result of being victimized, and totally overlook how we ended-up in this position in the first place!

This may sound ridiculous, of course.  But seriously, we’ve all taken part in creating this environment of dependence upon credit scores and ratings — we’ve let the banks and creditors take away our power.  And in turn criminals are now taking advantage of our society’s bad habits. 

For example, here I was, with a nice respectable 730 credit score, and a single 30 days late notice for a medical bill the insurance company didn’t cover (all of $69, to boot)  and didn’t notify the hospital for 60 days blew that away.  I suddenly dropped down to lower 600’s score, which means that it became suddenly hard to get any decent financing or interest rates.  This despite having significant positive payment histories for amounts in the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, liquid assets, real estate equity, etc.  So why did I care whether I could get a credit line for only a couple thousands of dollars at my local Circuit City???  Why didn’t I just pay cash?  To be honest, it’s because I like most of us have come to expect that credit is easy, always available, and the first choice for payment.  Another funny experience is when I went into a car dealer recently and actually paid cash (well, at least by check from a cash account — I wasn’t about to carry around $48k!) .  The sales manager at the dealer couldn’t understand why I wasn’t taking him up on his offer of “low” 3.9% lease financing, and he was actually getting pissy with me over this…..  How crazy is that?  Cash buyers seem to have become second-class citizens!  Used to be I would get a special price, treatment, etc. for paying cash-on-the-spot.  Those days seem to be gone!!!

This is all because we’ve become a greedy, need-it-want-it-now consumer society.  Don’t get me wrong, I make a nice living and like to spend my disposable cash on toys and nice cars, etc.  But I live within my means, don’t over-extend myself, etc.  I have taken the time to understand how the “system” works, and more importantly how the system is not designed to protect or care for each citizen but rather mitigate risk of bad debt write-offs by the financiers.  Yes, I use credit lines and financing — but definitely NOT as a way to live beyond my means or to impress others.

So forget about the common-sense crap advice that you see a lot of press about lately — I’ve put together some very simple thoughts on the subject.  What got me thinking about this subject was that a number of bloggers have recently written about the “10 Things you should know about the credit…” and other aspects of the credit industry.  But the lists always seemed like a rehashing of the obvious like call the credit agencies, complain to the FTC, etc..  So here I am taking a different “tough love” approach.  Here’s a few nuggets:

  • Credit Agencies are NOT on your side of the playing field!
  • Banks and creditors really DO NOT care that you have made every single previous payment on time, had significant amounts of credit extended to you.  They only care about your immediately available credit score.
  • You HAVE BEEN reduced to a mathematical formula!
  • Credit monitoring services WON’T protect you from becoming a victim of identity theft!  At best these services will let you know when you become a victim so that you can take actions to limit the damage.
  • Likewise, credit “repair” services won’t do anything that you couldn’t do yourself, and in fact could make the situation worse for YOU!
  • The ONLY WAY to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft is to take necessary steps to limit your exposure.  Remember the analogy that the only secure computer is one that is NOT connected to the network, turned-off, and perhaps erased?  Well, the same applies to your identity…  we just need to find the right level of reasonableness to continue living our lives without living in a paranoid bubble.
  • You can never know all of the ways in which your identity is at risk — the criminals out there are just simply too resourceful.  But you CAN be aware of the risks…  by reading this blog and other resources (such as identity theft research web site and forums) on the subject to remain aware of the many ways others have become victimized.

This all may seem a bit harsh, or even more common-sense than the pundits have offered already.  Let’s see what others have to say…..  In the end, maybe our society as a whole should hope that someone steals our identity and our bad habits!

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$1 Million Guarantee Against ID Theft?

I know the following has already gotten some press recently — but a discussion with a friend of mine last night about ID Theft and the role that credit reporting agencies play in the broad problem of identity theft lead me to think about this a bit more.

What I’m referring to is that there is a company called LifeLock that provides ID Theft protection PROACTIVELY.  I stress that word because there are very very few companies out there today that do much more than monitor credit reports — and alert you when you are already a victim!!.  LifeLock actually takes a much more proactive approach, by doing things like making sure you are off any junk mail lists, removed from databases, and can only have credit or financial accounts opened after multi-faceted authentication.  LifeLock is so confident in their ability to PREVENT ID Theft from occurring that they offer a guarantee — up to $1 Million dollars!  Also, if you go to their web site, the CEO has his picture and his SSN posted on the home page.  That’s either confidence in his own product or stupidity….  I’m thinking he’s on to something.

So how is LifeLock different?  They use the analogy of being a solid lock on your door and not an alarm system.  Wouldn’t you rather keep the thief out to begin with vs. be told you were just ripped-off?  To that point, LifeLock challenges the effectiveness of credit monitoring services.  And if your Identity is stolen while you are a client, they’re going to fix the problem.  If you lose money, they’re going to re-imburse you. If you need lawyers, investigators, accountants, whatever, they’re going to hire and pay for them and it won’t cost you one red cent. I don’t think any of the credit monitoring agencies offer something even close to this. Read the details of the LifeLock $1 Million guarantee.  To finish-off this point, here’s a recent article from the New York Times about the effectiveness of credit monitoring.

But back to my opening comments.  To wit, I don’t think most consumers really understand how the credit reporting agencies work — and more importantly their revenue models.  Remember, the credit agencies are there for the protection of the banks and other institutions to protect them — not YOU!  They generate revenue by providing access to your credit history and personal information.  So why anyone would believe that the credit agencies would “protect” them from identity theft is beyond me.  Remember – when someone steals your identity they apply for loans and accounts posing as you!  The credit agencies don’t know it’s NOT you.  So how would they be able to stop someone, who claims to be you, from opening an account?  Te whole point of stealing someones identity is to have banks, etc. believe that it is you.  Doesn’t really matter if they do it just once — you’re already a vicitm!  So what good is credit monitoring if you get an alert that someone has openened an account?  Granted, you can limit your losses.  But the fact is you’re still a victim. 

Think about that.

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Top 10 ID Theft States…

You’ve probably read the following list already due to the media attention such things are given nowadays — The rankings are published by the FTCs Identity Theft Clearinghouse annually.  I decided to reprint here but also link you to the specific Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse report for each state on the list.  And if you are interested in moving to a state where you are least likely to become a victim, I’ve provided the Top Ten States where you are LEAST likely to become an ID Theft victim (complaints per 100,000 population).

  1. Arizona
  2. Nevada
  3. California
  4. Texas
  5. Colorado
  6. Florida
  7. Washington
  8. New York
  9. Georgia
  10. Illinois

And the Top 10 states where you are LEAST likely to become a victim of ID theft…

  1. North Dakota
  2. South Dakota
  3. Vermont
  4. Iowa
  5. Maine
  6. West Virgina
  7. Montana
  8. Kentucky
  9. Wyoming
  10. New Hampshire

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Top Ten Ways to Protect Your Business From ID Theft

I was having dinner with a long-time friend the other evening.  We talked about many things, but eventually the discussion turned to the subject of identity theft.  See, my friend had just received a letter from his bank indicating that his personal information had been comprimised by a back-up tape gone missing.  A successful business owner in PA, my friend hadn’t thought about what he would have to do if his business became a victim of identity theft.  It seems there is so much focus on individuals by the media that not much is ever said or directed at business owners.  I made some suggestions, and thought I’d research this a bit more on-line.  I found several good resources on the web. 

Courtesy of our friends at the U.S. Secret Service, the following are proposed as simple ways to limit the risk of ID Theft exposure for any business owner:

  • Review your bank statements regularly to ensure that the authorized signers are not the same people who reconcile the account.
  • Have Social Security and as many other checks as possible deposited directly into your bank account rather than mailed to you.
  • Review all hiring procedures. Know your employees.
  • Make sure two people are responsible for accounts payable and ensure that mailroom personnel and procedures are sound.
  • Keep all check stock or cash equivalents in a secure and locked facility.
  • Change keys or entry codes periodically to prevent routine access to storage areas.
  • Consider surprise audits.
  • Consider moving check disbursement activity to electronic payment.
  • Read and understand your bank contracts regarding liability for fraud under the Uniform Commercial Code.
  • Maintain contact with other businesses in your area so you can receive timely information on fraud occurrences. Keep a record of when, what and how a fraud may have hurt your business so you can prevent it the next time.
  • Use bank services like positive pay, expedited return information and signature verification systems to protect your accounts payable and accounts receivable areas.
  • Purchase check stock from well-established vendors. Use safety paper. If you process your payables through a service bureau, make sure you have a copy of its security procedures.
  • Reconcile your check disbursements and deposits regularly.
  • If a payment account is fraudulently used, close the account as soon as possible.
  • Be cautious when using refund accounts, such as rebates for subscriptions. This is another target for check fraud. The checks are relatively easy to obtain and can be used for counterfeits.
  • Evaluate the use of negative check file databases, especially if you accept a large number of payments by check.
  • Find ways to replace paper documents with electronic payment devices. Know your customers.

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Gone in 4 Seconds….

We’d all like to think we are smarter than your average criminal, but the following just goes to show you that in the seconds you let your guard down you can become a victim.  Now, I think that anyone who leaves valuables in their car, in plain site, is just asking for trouble.  But take a look at the following vid and think about all the times you pulled-in to fill-up and stepped out of your car leaving a briefcase, wallet or some other valuable on the front seat?  And, goes without saying to keep your glovebox locked if you have your registration and other personal information inside!

PSA vid from www.sheriff.org.

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