Your Online Presence is Real!

Whether you choose to hide your head in the sand, or deal with it, the challenges and dangers are not going away.   Being educated, aware and prepared will help you mitigate your losses. With that in mind, this article will focus on how easy it is for a fraudster to ruin your life, steal your identity and otherwise make you wish you had removed your information sooner!

What is Identity Theft?

Since the word identity theft was coined in 1964, the concept of one’s identity being compromised has grown.  Based on Experian.com, identity theft occurs when someone uses your identity or personal information—such as your name, your driver's license, or your Social Security number—without your permission to commit a crime or fraud. There are many different types of identity theft that can occur as criminals are always looking for new ways to exploit consumer information.

How Is Your Identity Stolen?

Protecting yourself from fraudYour identity and personal information is always at risk and can be stolen long before you realize you're a victim. In most cases of identity theft, you don't find out you are a victim until you review your credit card statement or receive notices in the mail about new accounts you didn't open, charges you didn't make, or until you're contacted by a debt collector.

The situation is made worse when it is not addressed quickly. But since most people are not expecting their identity to be stolen, they are not alert to any potential warning signs until some time has passed. Based on Experian.com, it typically takes three months for the majority of people find out they have been victims of identity theft.  However, it is important to note that according to the same report, 16% of people didn't find out that their identity was stolen for three years.

Common Names Make You More Susceptible to Identity Theft

Those of you with common names have often stated “no one can find me on the web because my name is too common”.  The fraudster can find you.  Perhaps they work with you and know the town where you live.  With a few clicks, they have your address, birthdate, relatives, etc.  The fraudster does not have to be unknown. Perhaps it is a disgruntled coworker, employee, or someone who just does not like you.  You have made it very easy with your complacency to have them wreak havoc on your life.

A 2017 issue of Wall Street Journal states that thieves prefer common names because there are so many out there. Credit companies have a hard time keeping the credit history of “Jane Smith” and another “Jane Smith.”  As a result, criminals take advantage of the fact that this makes it easier to commit fraud. In the same name cases, the identify thief can perpetuate the crime for a longer period without getting caught.  Often the fraudster will use a common name and commit crimes because it is difficult for law enforcement to sort out the truth.

Identityhawk.com states that when a fraudster is looking online, he or she will definitely choose common names precisely because they're so hard to distinguish from each other. Another advantage for the perpetrator is that people with common names tend to have similar e-mail addresses. The more sophisticated identity thieves use software to generate common e-mail addresses for phishing scams. People with common names can have crimes committed in their names for a long time and never even know about them until they receive court papers or police arrest them.

Who is the Fraudster:  Beware of Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

It is very difficult to know who is trying to compromise your identity. In fact, it can be your employee, coworker, neighbor, ex-spouse, or anyone with access to your data and a grudge against you.

Recognizing that the threat can come from anywhere, you must be careful regarding the information you share.  For example, fellow employees know each other’s vacation plans. When someone is traveling this is a perfect time to do online research and determine where the person lives. Now the fraudster employees know when you will be traveling and where you live. As the fraudster would say – “Thank you for not removing your information from the internet!”

Based on a Forbes.com Magazine article, when we consider how identity thieves operate, we picture people (strangers to us) digging in dumpsters and trash cans to find account numbers, and personal information to commit fraud.  However, we rarely consider personal acquaintances, family members or friends. Yet it these people who are most likely to be able to steal Social Security numbers, credit card account numbers, and debit cards. While some thieves use the stolen identity to make purchases and steal cash, it has been shown that when identity theft is conducted by family members and friends, it is often done by those with low credit scores who need a new, improved identity – one with a better score.

Beware of the People You Know

Because there are so many ways for people familiar with you to get your data, shredding sensitive paperwork is not enough to protect you from dishonest friends, family members, neighbors, employees, and co-workers.

Per Forbes.com, “These are the people who know you the best.”  The article goes on to say that, “They know intimate details and secrets pertaining to your life. Many of them know your habits and daily schedules. They have access to your telephones, computers, vehicles, and sometimes your finances. You have likely opened your home to the ones you trust the most.” 

The password you use, such as birth dates, pet names or phone numbers are most likely known by your roommate, friend or coworker.  It is good advice not to share this information.  And again, as the fraudster would say, “Thank you for sharing your details and for not removing your information from the internet!”

Vacation Plans Should Not Be Public Knowledge

Protecting your informationWhen you discuss your vacation plans you are very excited to share the good news with those around you – including how far you will be and how long you will be away.  As the fraudster would say, “Thank you for providing this information.” 

Your openness and willingness to broadcast your details enables the fraudster and their counterparts to take the address they’ve found on the web (or knew from their interactions with you) and visit your house. While there, they steal your mail and packages.  With any luck for them, you will have a check sent to you, so the fraudster can now cash it.  Or maybe you received a credit card invitation.  You can be sure they will accept that.  “Thank you for not removing your information from the internet!”

If you are traveling for business, this information should be minimized and not discussed openly in the office, as the same type of theft noted above can occur.

Your Vehicle Registration is Rich with Data

fraudsters and protecting your dataThe fraudster may be a co-worker, employee, friend, or a neighbor who notices the car you are driving. A simple click on a vehicle website will tell him where you live, the VIN number, and your phone number.  If you had removed your personal information from the web, this would not be an issue. 

Or even if the fraudster does not know you, they can find your address based on your car registration.  Sitting at their home computer, with a few clicks to indicate make, model and year of the car along with the state to gain immediate access to private information. 

Below are the redacted results from a search of the above. The fraudster can now use this information to steal your mail, steal your identity, or even steal your house!  “Thank you for not removing your information from the internet!”

 

A Br*thwaite

5** H***TEAD AVE NE, PALM BAY, FL 32907-2353
VIN: 4***S13S382700517
__________________________________________________
*onnie *weeney

 *355 SW *2nd Pl, Ocala, FL 34476-7444
VIN: 4***S13S882700738

__________________________________________________

Brenda G**in

5**2 W**dgreen Lane, Lakeland, FL 33811-1626
VIN: 4***S13S582700910

Scamming the Mourners

Fraudsters have no limits on their creativity and they are willing to take advantage of any situation. This works especially well when their victims are most vulnerable. So when reviewing the obituaries, the fraudster notes that Aunt Maggie passed away and the widower and family is from Anytown, USA.  Because Aunt Maggie and her family did not remove their information from the internet, the fraudster can easily locate the address. Once the funeral is over and the widower is home alone, a sympathy card from an old friend who supposedly volunteered with Maggie arrives.  The friend would like to call or visit the widower and provides a phone number.

The widower calls the fraudster and soon they are discussing Maggie, although the widower is doing most of the talking, while the fraudster is listening carefully. The fraudster states he is from a volunteer organization and would like to prepare a memorial plaque for Maggie.  The widower, in his grieving state, writes the check.

The FTC reported that 35% of fraud complaints and 18.9% of ID theft complaints impacted seniors (Americans who are 60 years or older) in 2017.  “Thank you for not removing your information from the internet!”

Synthetic ID Theft – The New Frontier

Believe it or not, the situation can get even worse.Experian.com reminds us thatnow that the fraudster has all of your personal information, they can perpetuate a synthetic identity theft. This occurs when criminals create a fictitious identity using various pieces of real and fabricated information—such as a Social Security number, date of birth, address, phone number and email. Again the fraudster is pleased with the outcome, saying, “Thank you for not removing your information from the internet!”

Conclusion

 protecting yourself and your informationAs you can see, most of us are making it relatively simple for our identity to be stolen. We do little to protect our data and are naïve enough to believe that we are safe from online identity theft.

Being aware to all the possibilities is just the first step you need to take.  Next you need to act on your knowledge, be thoughtful about sharing important information and protect your data – most specifically by simply removing it from the public domain! 

Contact Dr. Kim Miller at kim.miller@sobelcollc.com for more information on finding and removing personal information from the internet.