Identity Theft

identity-theft

 

Identity theft is the crime of the century. Anyone and everyone can do it if they are so inclined. No special skills or equipment are needed as long as the thief has access to a computer. Identity theft can be perpetrated from anywhere in the world and everyone is vulnerable. This type of crime is invisible,  doesn’t take very long, and is very profitable. Men and women are equally likely to commit this type of nonviolent crime. Teenagers sometimes try it out as a prank. The crime is ageless and can be committed by anyone from a child to an elderly person. Most identity thieves are never caught and are attracted to this type of crime due to the low probability of prosecution and the prospect of free and unlimited money.

identity-theft-money

 

The FBI only gets involved in high profile (and high dollar) identity theft crimes. Police don’t often pursue identity theft crimes leaving victims of identity theft in a very precarious predicament. What then is to be done? In Stealing Your Life: The Ultimate Identity Theft Prevention Plan by Frank W. Abagnale these issues and many more are addressed.

stealing-your-life

Frank W. Abagnale is a former forger who now works with banks, the FBI, police, and others to prevent identity theft. Stealing Your Life is a must read for everyone. The book is an easy read and loaded with information that I couldn’t possibly cover in one blog post. Many of the stories are chilling but useful learning tools. Frank Abagnale does an excellent job of describing what identity theft is, how thieves get access to your personal information, and how your information may be used once it’s  accessed. Identity theft is not a prank and it is not a harmless crime. People’s lives can be ruined by it.

Many people think that most personal information is obtained through data breaches–such as what happened recently in the Wells Fargo fiasco where bank employees used client information to open new accounts without client knowledge or permission. This does happen as indicated by the graph:

identity-theft-bar-graph

Often though people may be victims of identity theft and not even know about it for years. Sometimes you may find out you’ve been a victim by noticing an unauthorized charge on your debit card (as happened to me) or you may be denied credit because your credit has been ruined by an identity thief. College students, prisoners, the elderly, the critically ill, and young children are particularly vulnerable victims of this crime. Many identity thieves get your personal information and then apply for credit cards in your name. With that credit card they can apply for mortgages, car loans, and other types of financing. They can buy goods and services, take vacations, and even have medical and dental procedures–all while you are responsible for the bills. Sometimes this is a one time event and at other times an identity thief may completely assume your identity.

Some thieves are hackers, some get information from people, and some may physically steal the information they need. These things are bad enough, but what is amazing is how much of this information can be found through legal means. In the United States we have access to public records such as birth dates, death dates, marriage and divorce dates, phone numbers, addresses and even social security numbers. If you are into genealogy you may have looked up this type of information yourself. It’s not illegal.

identity-theft-on-the-rise

To prove a point, Frank Abagnale listed three possible websites where an identity thief might glean this information. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons, own the world’s third largest database at familysearch.com . Frank suggests that you go to this site and type in the name of someone you know who is deceased and just peruse the information that comes up. Frank typed in the name of his father and this is what he says he found:

…up came my father’s date of birth, date of death, and Social Security number, as well as the last five cities he lived in prior to his death. Because I had searched for Abagnale, I was able to scroll down to more than two hundred Abagnales-aunts, uncles, cousins, who had passed away. Some cousins I didn’t know-third cousins probably. Some died when they were twenty-one and twenty-eight. They must have been killed in Vietnam or in car accidents. But for each person I had the dates of birth and death, a social security number, and the last five localities where they lived. Everything available was derived from publicly available sources.  (pp.35-36)

I took this challenge myself. I typed in the names of two different deceased family members and got very similar information–including information about me although I didn’t type in my name and I’m obviously not dead! I also got information about other living relatives such as names and locations because in one case an obituary had been recorded. I didn’t type in those names either. I could click on every name given and go to that information.

identity-theft-ssn

As if this isn’t chilling enough, there are some legitimate sites where you can actually buy anyone’s social security number. There are no laws in the United States that prohibit the sale of social security numbers. There may be legitimate reasons this information is needed such as businesses trying to collect on a debt. Very often though people who pay for this information don’t have legitimate uses in mind. For just $49 you can go to docusearch.com and buy a social security number. According to Frank Abagnale, sites like these don’t usually bother to verify in any way why you may actually need the information.

If all of this doesn’t have you concerned yet, the following information will. If you really want the goods you can go to netdetective.com where they will “tell you everything and anything about anybody” for $150. If you decide to check on yourself  you will learn:

…where you work, what your salary is, your date of birth, your Social Security number, who you’re married to, and who you’ve been married to. They’ll tell you where you went to elementary school, where you went to high school, and where you went to college-you name it.

They claim that they do cheap background checks for $150. So if I were an identity thief, why would I waste my time looking up this information when, for $150, I have it at my fingertips? What’s $150? I’m going to get a credit card in your name, probably with a $5,000 limit, so the $150 is simply the cost of doing business.

Other sites like DocuSearch.com, will furnish personal but public information for anywhere between $49 to $150. You can even pick up what the FBI knows about you. (p.37)

arrest
Business people in police lineup

If an identity thief steals your identity, it can take years and even a lifetime to straighten out your credit. That’s tough enough but some unfortunate individuals have not only had their identities stolen and credit destroyed, but have also been falsely accused of  and arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. This could happen to an individual or to a group such as you and your coworkers. Crooks like identity thieves have been known to get arrested for crimes other than Identity Theft, but show a false ID to the police. They may spend a night in jail and be released with a pending court date. Of course they never show up for the court proceeding and because they used a false name. The wrong person is then picked up by the police for failure to appear–and that’s in the mildest cases. Crimes identity thieves have been known to commit and blame their victims for include drug related crimes, medical fraud,  insurance fraud, traffic violations, assault, and even murder. A credit record can eventually be erased, but a criminal record is never completely erased.  Thus an identity thief could also ruin your reputation.

The key to dealing with identity theft is to try to prevent it in the first place. Frank Abagnale lists 20 steps to preventing identity theft. I will briefly list those steps here, but I urge you to read this book for yourself as there is much more depth to this issue (and prevention) than I’m able to cover in just one post. Here are the 20 steps suggested by Frank Abagnale:

  1.  Check your credit report
  2. Don’t give out your Social Security Number
  3. Protect your computer
  4. Keep track of your billing cycles
  5. Examine your financial statements like an obsessed accountant
  6. Guard your mail from theft
  7. Invest in a shredder (not a “spaghetti” shredder)
  8. Practice safe shopping
  9. Avoid sketchy ATMs
  10. Be suspicious of unexpected calls or letters
  11. Put real passwords on your accounts
  12. Keep your credit card close when shopping or eating out
  13. Use safe checks, and use them sparingly
  14. Secure the home front and the office front
  15. Carry only what you need
  16. Spring clean your credit cards
  17. Opt Out
  18. Read privacy policies
  19. Protect a deceased relative
  20. Place fraud alerts on your credit report

There are also many other things that Frank Abagnale  suggests that you can do which are not included in the above list. His book will walk you through exactly how to implement all of his suggestions.

If you do become a victim of identity theft, you will want to check out How to Survive Identity Theft: Regain Your Money, Credit, and Reputation by David H. Holtzman.

how-to-survive-identity-theft

This book is slightly newer than Frank Abagnale’s book and contains more up to date laws and resources of what you can do to fight identity theft after the fact.Many resources  are listed by state. Much of what I’ve already written is also included in this book, but I think this book is also worth your time because it does have some differing information/ideas. There are also examples of legal forms you will probably need to use if you find yourself in such a serious situation.

Many businesses are making progress in fighting identity theft. In some areas of the country law enforcement is beginning to take this crime more seriously. These things alone are not enough to protect you. You must defend yourself and your family. I highly recommend that you begin with these two books.

Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Are you taking steps to protect yourself and if so are there any that differ from those discussed in this blog?

*****************************************************************

Post Addendum:

Since this post was originally published it’s received a lot of attention. Two of my coworkers here at the Fulton County Public Library have requested to have information added added.

olivia-owl

Olivia Owl is the head of the IT department at Fulton County Public Library. We will learn more about her when my library exploration brings us to the computer area. For now, though, Olivia told me about a movie that I did not mention in my previous post. The reason I didn’t mention it was because I didn’t know about it. However, on Olivia’s suggestion I checked it out and watched it over the Thanksgiving break.  The movie is called Catch Me If You Can.

catch-me-if-you-can

It is the true story of Frank Abagnale’s  life as a forger. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Frank and Tom Hanks plays the law man who ultimately caught Frank. It’s because of this background that Frank Abagnale is now so good at helping to fight identity theft. I found the movie to be both funny and entertaining.

The next request comes from a staff member you have met before here on the Dewey Hop blog.

proud turkey

Twain Turkey was introduced way back in a blog about the Media Commons. He helps support patrons with technical skills by teaching tech classes. He also works at Adult Circulation (more about that in a future post).

Twain wanted to share some strategies he uses which he thought might be helpful to Dewey Hop readers. Twain says that he has talked to the people at his bank and has requested an email whenever a charge over $25 appears on his checking account. By receiving the email alerts, Twain is able to keep a close watch on his bank account. Twain also receives email alerts whenever charges under $2 are made. It’s important to watch out for the lower charges as well because many identity thieves will “test” the account to see if the charge goes unnoticed or to make sure it’s still an active account. Often the smaller charges will precede much larger charges although the time in between a small and large charge will vary anywhere from a few days to years.

Additionally, Twain recommends contacting all three major credit reporting agencies (something mentioned in both books discussed above) and placing a credit freeze on your own accounts. Twain uses a password with the credit agencies so that no new accounts can be opened without that password.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts/suggestions in the comment section below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

45 thoughts on “Identity Theft

    1. Yes. In my case it was a one time charge and I immediately notified the bank and had my debit card changed. I still do not know how that particular number was compromised, but I watch my balance like a hawk–that’s how it was caught and stopped before it became a bigger problem. These thieves are quick! I had made a deposit on a Friday afternoon. I logged on to check the balance online that night and the thief already got something like $400 out of my account. The bank was closed until the next day but I notified them as quickly as I could. It then took a week or two to get my money returned. Fortunately the bank believed me. Apparently the charge was for a newspaper add in the Seattle area! Ugh!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think we know the full extent yet. It started with a few strange shipments showing up at her house but now this last week it was a few hundred dollars on a credit card.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. She called the police but they don’t really know what to do. Thankfully the credit card company called her right away and then cancelled the card but it’s still very unnerving wondering what’s going to come next.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. In that second book are many things that she will need to do. You can probably check it out at your local library . It has resources listed by states and useful forms. She is going to need to check her own credit report and possibly put a freeze on them until this is resolved.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow another great post. Stealing Your Life sounds like a book to check out, thanks! Pretty scary stuff, I did not realize how little privacy we have and I did not realize someone could just pay $150 and get all that information on you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s very sobering. We need to become aware–not necessarily paranoid, but aware. What we know about we can change. An identity thief is going to go for the easiest target. The idea is to take steps to make it harder for them. Good for you, but bad for that person who doesn’t take steps and is still a vulnerable target.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am going to add an addendum to the post. I didn’t know about it at the time I wrote the post, but there is also a move called Catch Me If You Can. It’s about Frank Abagnale’s career as a forger. It’s a good movie. I watched it over the Thanksgiving break. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I paid to have LIfeLock protection. This has been the best investment I have made. My complete identity was compromised 4 times. I was able to wrap all 4 cases up quickly without affecting my credit score and without owing any money for the fraudulent charges. All my credit reports are frozen and will remain so for seven years because I filed a formal complaint with the police.

    Lifelock notified me within 24 hours of each event. I would never have known since the criminals changed mailing addresses as well. The charges would never have reached my residence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so sorry that happened to you! I am glad that you were able to come through it unscathed. Frank Abagnale’s book does talk about fraud protection products such as insurance (similar to LifeLock). There’s a lot of detail about that in the book, too much for me to cover in the post, but it does seem to be a great thing to have. These thieves are slippery. I’m so glad you had the foresight to invest in protection!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Timing is everything. I am a big believer in the phrase, “penny wise, pound foolish.” We buy insurance for so many things in life, it just makes sense to possess this type of protection as well in the age of high technology.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s