How Identity Theft Occurs

June 22, 2007

Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to gain access to your data.

How identity thieves get your personal information:

They get information from businesses or other institutions by:
• stealing records or information while they’re on the job
• bribing an employee who has access to these records
• hacking these records
• conning information out of employees

• They may steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information.
• They may rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public trash dumps in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
• They may get your credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report.
• They may steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as “skimming.” They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card.
• They may steal your wallet or purse.
• They may steal personal information they find in your home.
• They may steal personal information from you through email or phone by posing as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. This practice is known as “phishing” online, or “pretexting” by phone.

How identity thieves use your personal information:

• They may call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there’s a problem.
• They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts are reported on your credit report.
• They may establish phone or wireless service in your name.
• They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
• They may counterfeit checks or credit or debit cards, or authorize electronic transfers in your name, and drain your bank account.
• They may file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.
• They may buy a car by taking out an auto loan in your name.
• They may get identification such as a driver’s license issued with their picture, in your name.
• They may get a job or file fraudulent tax returns in your name.
• They may give your name to the police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.

If Your Personal Information Has Been Lost or Stolen

If you’ve lost personal information or identification, or if it has been stolen from you, taking certain steps quickly can minimize the potential for identity theft.

• Financial accounts: Close accounts, like credit cards and bank accounts, immediately. When you open new accounts, place passwords on them. Avoid using your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number (SSN) or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
• Social Security number: Call the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports. An alert can help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name.
• Driver’s license/other government-issued identification: Contact the agency that issued the license or other identification document. Follow its procedures to cancel the document and to get a replacement. Ask the agency to flag your file so that no one else can get a license or any other identification document from them in your name. Once you’ve taken these precautions, watch for signs that your information is being misused.

If your information has been misused, file a report about the theft with the police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, as well. If another crime was committed – for example, if your purse or wallet was stolen or your house or car was broken into – report it to the police immediately.


Identity Theft has Evolved as Technology Grows

June 6, 2007

Today, people must keep up with technology in order to conduct their lives and daily routines. They are required to change almost daily to new knowledge and exciting discoveries that constantly change the way they function and do business. Everything from saying hello to a friend down the street to video-conferencing with someone around the world can be done electronically from anywhere.

Technological advances now allow people to carry out the most mundane of tasks, such as ordering groceries from the store, to the most complex activities, such as performing complicated surgery.  All this can be done from a separate remote location with simply a computer connected to the Internet.

Since its beginnings in the 1990s, the Internet has grown into a huge electronic network that now spans the entire globe.  Because people use the Internet in their everyday lives, they rely on it almost completely for safe and accurate exchange of information.

Constantly, personal data such as Social Security numbers, credit card numbers, and passwords are traveling through wires, and also through the air, from one computer to another. With security measures in place to protect this sort of information online, most people feel safe on the Internet and trust that their personal information will remain confidential. But, unfortunately, criminals have also adapted to advancements in technology and, these days, people are becoming victims of crimes committed over the Internet.

The Evolution of Crime on the Internet

For years, criminals have been using discarded credit card receipts, bank statements, tax notices, and other bills (often found in the trash) to gain the personal information necessary to assume another person’s identity. However, on today’s electronic playing field, these criminals have used technology to devise cunning new methods of theft in the form of cyber crimes. Now, computer hacking and email scams known as phishing are included among the risks of sharing information online.

Computer hackers are able to enter areas of the Internet where they are prohibited and hack in to another computer network. Once they are inside a computer’s network, they are able to view documents, files, and confidential data and use it for their own personal gain. Phishing, on the other hand, is a method in which people are duped into providing their own personal data to a thief who is posing as a legitimate business or agency. Both of these cyber crimes have been steadily on the rise in recent years. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, there were more than 9.9 million cases of identity theft last year in the United States.

Hacking Into Your Life

One example of the growing computer hacking problem in which personal information was stolen emerged in February, 2005 when an information broker, ChoicePoint Inc., announced that an identity theft ring had hacked into its database and gained access to hundreds of thousands of personal documents. Some of the information that was stolen included full names, Social Security numbers, home addresses, and credit reports.

Many other large corporations such as T-Mobile USA were also recently hacked, and had their clients’ information stolen. Even superstar Paris Hilton could not escape the threat of identity theft as her personal photos, text messages, and phone numbers in her personal directory were stolen by a hacker and spread across the Internet. The U.S. Senate will soon hold hearings to determine whether these corporations and information brokers require more extensive regulation.

Don’t Get Hooked by Phishers!

Phishing is currently on the rise around the world as well. Phishing works because scammers are able to construct bogus emails, pop-up ads, and even websites that appear to be from legitimate businesses or agencies. They inspire a false sense of trust, then send out emails asking for personal and financial data so they can steal identities.

Some phishing emails may even install software on your computer that could be used to redirect your computer to bogus websites. Be extremely cautious of whom you trust with personal information on the Internet. You should know that legitimate businesses will never ask you to provide nor confirm any personal information through an email or pop-up message.

Tips to Protect Yourself and the Internet

The Internet can be a powerful tool, and the convenience it offers to manage business and recreation is invaluable. But theft and fraud are damaging the positive reputation of the Internet as a medium for business. Consumers are losing confidence in their own safety on the Internet, and fewer people are making purchases online these days.

However, there are steps that you can take to decrease your chances of becoming a victim, and to help catch cyber-criminals at work:

* Be aware that there are people online who would like to gain access to your personal information. Do not share this information unless you have initiated the exchange or are absolutely sure of who is receiving it.

* Install security and scanning software onto your computer to protect it from online hacking.

* Do not use your name, date of birth, address, or any other personal information for passwords. These passwords are easily cracked by hackers. In fact, it is suggested that for any password, you should not use a word that is found in the dictionary, as there are hacking programs that will attempt every word in the dictionary.

* Never disclose personal information in response to an email. Legitimate businesses would never ask you to do this. If an email or pop-up ad requests you to confirm personal information, even if it looks genuine, it is an example of phishing and should be reported to reportphishing@antiphishing.org, the attorneys at the Securities and Exchange Commission at enforcement@sec.gov, and to the Federal Trade Commission at uce@ftc.gov.

* If you are concerned about an email you receive from a company, contact that company by phone to verify the information. If there is a web link provided in the email, type it directly into your browser instead of using the link or copying and pasting it, as some links can be redirected to other sites.

* When giving personal information over a website, check to make sure that site is secure. Look at the first part of the web address in your browser. It should read https:// and not http://

* Regularly check your credit card and bank statements and keep track of your transactions. Also, log into your online accounts frequently. This way, you will be able to notice any changes to your account soon after it happens.

By taking these steps, you can greatly reduce your chance of having your identity stolen, and help to combat this growing problem. If you are careful not to reveal personal information online, and help to make others aware of the risks, you will be playing a part in making the Internet a safer place for all of us to communicate and conduct business.

Staff Patrol offers several services to check your own details and see if anything is associated incorrectly with your social security number.