Not Your Daddy’s Identity Thief
If you think you’re not at risk for identity theft, think again. This must see video from a recent Dateline MSNBC special points out how hackers use technology to steal your identity despite common precautions.
MSNBC DATELINE Special Report
As you can see identity thieves move fast and everything from credit cards and bank accounts to Social Security numbers are available in illegal black markets. Where do identity thieves get their information? Data breeches. According to the ITRC Breach report, there were over 222 million compromised private records in 2009 alone. Unfortunately, it takes time for authorities to investigate and shut sites like these down and criminals can have new sites up in minutes.
The Modern Identity Thief
It’s not your daddy’s identity thief. Just a few years ago, the best way to prevent identity theft was to not carry your social security card on your person. Today’s identity thieves employ sophisticated technology to steal your personal information. Just a few weeks ago, police busted a major identity theft ring in Los Angeles that employed bluetooth scanners inside Arco gas terminals. Unsuspecting customers would enter their PIN number and the scanners would copy everything the thieves needed to duplicate your card and drain your bank account.
The reality is much of your private information is already out there and there’s very little you can do to stop it. How many credit applications have you filled out over the years? Have you ever filled out a department store charge card to get that 10% discount? In 2008, police found a retail store had discarded hundreds of approved applications in the trash. You could follow every advice about protecting your personal information and through no fault of your own, be a victim of identity theft because your auto insurer had their database hacked.
The Ordeal of Michelle Brown
When personal information is stolen, the harm to the victim often goes far beyond the pocketbook. When Michelle Brown was detained and questioned at Los Angeles International Airport, she realized that she had lost the claim on her own identity. Tears streamed down her face as she frantically fumbled through police reports and letters from the DA searching for anything that would prove she was a law-abiding citizen—not the felon who had stolen her identity, ruined her credit, and embarked on a crime spree which had led to an outstanding warrant for her arrest.
Every year 1 in 18.22 households will be victimized by identity theft. If it happens to you, the hit to your wallet may be only part of the cost. Many victims find their lives upended—and all too often the culprit is never identified and there’s no certainty about how the theft occurred. It’s up to the victim to take steps to limit the damage, by putting a stop on checks and credit cards, opening new accounts, and creating new passwords. And then comes the painstaking task of trying to undo any damage to one’s reputation or credit scores.
Michelle Brown’s ordeal did not end with the arrest of her perpetrator. The name “Michelle Brown” was given at the time of booking—and, incredibly enough, once convicted the thief continued to use the name for outgoing mail she sent from prison.
If identity theft victims are lucky, they are able to walk away with only the inconvenience of having to get new credit cards and remember new PIN numbers. Still 1 in 21.28 victims of identity theft will lose $5,000 or more because of the theft, and 1 in 5.56 will have ongoing problems, especially if the thief is never apprehended. If you are in that number, the biggest toll may be living with the knowledge that someone can live their life in your name, using your Social Security number, signing your name to loan applications, and using your credit to fund their every whim. And the burden of proof will be on you to prove you are who you say you are.
Of course, you can drastically reduce the chances of becoming an identity theft victim by using an identity theft protection service. (See our 2010 identity theft protection reviews of Lifelock, Lifelock Command Center, TrustedID, Identity Guard, ProtectMyID, and Equifax.)