October 25, 2016

What Information Can an Identity Thief Access?

The information an ID thief has depends on the method he got the information.  Your wallet contains different information from your mail, and bank account passwords stolen by a hacker has different information still.  Unfortunately, in modern society nearly every piece of information is linked to every other piece.  A skilled identity thief could, if he wished, eventually get to every piece of information that counted.

Let’s take someone who stole just a single credit card of yours through a credit card skimmer.  Perhaps you encountered an unscrupulous waiter who ran your card through a skimmer and then stole the information.  Theoretically, only a single card was taken.  If you catch it fast enough they won’t get very far with their purchasing and you can dispute everything that matters.  One credit card doesn’t bring the entire house crashing down—unless the thief puts in a bit more effort.

At this point the thief also has your first name, last name, and middle initial.  He can plug the information into Google.  If you have a Facebook account, you’ll pop right up.  If your real picture is on the account or if you live in the same city you just got your info stolen in, it’s a simple matter to match you to the account.  If you’re the type of person who doesn’t see the harm in putting your date of birth up on Facebook, and you didn’t stop to change your privacy settings at any point, chances are good that the thief now has your Date of Birth, your address, your phone number, and your e-mail address.  But even if you didn’t leave your identity out in the open on Facebook, you may still be in the phone book.  The thief can just as easily get your address, zipcode, and phone number from this less technical source.

If the thief so desires, he can then visit your house for a little bit of dumpster diving.  Or he can have your mail forwarded to his house so he can open up all your account statements.  He might find your bank account information and proceed to clean out that account.  He might find that one account that insists on using your SSN as the account number, which gives him the ability, along with your name and Date of Birth, to open up brand new accounts in your name.  If he finds any insurance information he may get your plan number and group number, which means he can go on to order a new insurance card.  He can then use that insurance card to get medical services in your name.

So assume that if an ID thief has one piece of information, he has them all.  If you see ID theft from one quarter, immediately begin closing down avenues to the others as quickly as you can.  Many thieves might not be this ambitious: they’re looking for a quick rip-off of opportunity, not a full scale use of your life.  But you can’t assume.  Even a thief looking for quick opportunity may soon sell what he’s got to another thief.  Since that credit card is used up the second thief might take the time to farm the data a bit and sell that.  Keep your eye on your info and use cash whenever it’s possible.  It may be less convenient—but nothing is more anonymous than cash.

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