December 5, 2016

How Much Information does an ID Thief Need to Steal Your Identity?

An identity thief who is determined to steal your identity doesn’t really need very much information at all to proceed.  Each piece of personal information we have links to some other piece of very vital information.  While he might not be able to do it on your name alone (especially if you have a common name, vs. an unusual name) he can usually do it if he can just match your name to any other piece of vital information.

Let’s start with your address.  Mail theft and dumpster diving are two major places that ID Thieves can go to steal your information.  Knowing your address means they can dive in your dumpster, reach in your mailbox, or even file a mail forwarding form in your name.  Once they’ve gotten all your bills and bank statements they’re going to have a pretty good idea of how to go about impersonating you.  Think “your mother’s maiden name?” will protect you?  A quick search on Intellius could show the thief everyone you’ve ever been associated with…including your mother.   This is why more and more companies are turning to your favorite pet, the name of your first high school, or your favorite hobby.  Unfortunately, a search of your Facebook profile might well reveal all three key pieces of information, giving the thief an arsenal of answers to use if he tries to work your account.

Or how about just your phone number?  Let’s say you’ve given your phone number out to a perfect stranger you met at the bar.  He never calls back, but he does run a reverse number search on whitepages.com.  At that point, he has your address: see above.  Perhaps he just calls you up offering a loan over the phone, and you give him every other key piece of info there thinking you qualify for a $10,000 personal loan.  We all say we’d never fall for it, but it happens every single day.

What if he only has your name and date of birth?  Try it for yourself.  Put your name and state into Intellius.  Multiple names probably come up.  The date of birth will help the thief identify which one attaches to you because sites like this list out the possibilities by age.  The date of birth is also used as an identifying factor on many accounts, meaning he’s already halfway to your financial information before ten seconds have passed.

Of course, all of these items assume that the identity thief is concerned with simply stealing your identity.  More often, identity crimes are crimes of opportunity: a wallet is stolen, a credit card number is swiped, or a phishing scam captures us.  But a truly dedicated thief—perhaps one who has some idea of your assets from interacting with you elsewhere—can probably look up everything they need.  This is yet another argument for keeping your information close to your chest and for dealing with the most reputable companies you can find.

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