How criminals use small pieces of personal information to steal identities

Identity theft is a persistent problem for consumers. According to recent identity fraud reports, 14.4 million people became victims of identity fraud in 2018. The scary part is criminals can gain access to identities by obtaining what most people consider to be innocent pieces of information.

Thieves profit from data breaches

Criminals often commit identity theft by stealing Social Security numbers. With massive data breaches exposing millions of numbers over time, much of their work is done for them. Since it takes 191 days, on average, for an organization to realize they’ve been breached, with this head start, identity thieves can exploit their victims before anyone knows what’s happened.

Common tactics thieves use to commit identity theft

Unfortunately, savvy criminals don’t need much personal information to swipe an identity. Social Security numbers make it easier, but they can potentially commit ID theft with less information. For instance, they can nab other types of personally identifiable information (PII) to piece together enough details to gain access to an identity.

  • Dumpster diving. Thieves frequently resort to this old-fashioned tactic since consumers (and some businesses) routinely throw away documents containing PII.
  • Facebook (social media) posts. Thieves scour social media for birthdates, phone numbers, email addresses, mother’s maiden names, and other seemingly innocent pieces of information. This information enables them to compile enough details to steal an identity (or at least enough tidbits to access an email address to gain entry to other valuable accounts).
  • Credit reports. Shrewd ID thieves can successfully obtain copies of credit reports by pretending to be a legitimate source—these reports contain a goldmine of information.
  • Mailboxes. Thieves are not beneath swiping mail to hit the PII jackpot or to use the information they steal from mailboxes to put in for a change of address to redirect mail so they can receive their victims’ bills and account statements.

ID thieves also use various types of social engineering tactics to obtain PII. For example, they might use your name and address to call an organization you do business with and pretend to be you. Since many businesses use addresses and phone numbers to verify your identity, once an agency “verifies” the requested information, the thief attempts to trick them into accessing your account. Or, they might try to impersonate a business or official agency and call you to try to get additional PII. These tactics of trickery often enable thieves to arm themselves with enough information to fully steal your identity.  

Where to get help

Victims should always immediately report incidences of identity theft by filing a report with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, notifying the IRS, freezing credit, and placing fraud alerts on credit reports. This begins the work of recovery from identity theft.

If you’ve been a victim of identity theft and need to rebuild your credit rating or simply want to earn a better credit standing, PRBC can help. To learn how to obtain a free alternative credit score or to learn more about our services, contact us today.

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