How Does Identity Theft Happen So Easy?

In today’s digital age there are seemingly countless ways identity thieves and cyber-criminals can get personal information about you, steal your money, and use your identity and your credit record to commit fraud in your name. The risks are real, affecting millions of people every year.

This quick overview of how identity theft and cyber-crime happens today will help you understand how easily it could happen to you, and why you need to protect yourself and your family.

  • Data Breach
  • Friendly Fraud
  • Computer Hacking
  • Spyware / Keyloggers
  • Email Phishing
  • Phone Vishing
  • Text/Cell phone Phishing

  • Card Skimming
  • Change of Address
  • Stolen Wallet
  • Dumpster Diving
  • Mail Theft
  • Black Market Sales

Data Breaches

Businesses, government agencies and organizations of all types and sizes gather, store and share all kinds of personal information about their customers and employees. This is a virtual gold mine for thieves!

A “data breach” is any incident where customer or employee information is accidentally lost or exposed by a careless employee, or stolen by a hacker or thief. Stolen laptops, lost USB flash drives, un-shredded paperwork, improperly discarded computers, and hacker break-ins are among the most common ways files are lost or stolen. Another growing problem is “insiders” – employees or contractors gaining access to data and selling it to criminals.

With so many businesses and organizations doing a poor job of protecting personal information, and with criminals targeting businesses and organizations, there is a good chance your information will be exposed or stolen in a data breach – if it hasn’t already happened to you!

  • 47% of adults had their personal info exposed in data breaches in last 12 months (Javelin Strategy & Research)
  • In 2013, 1 in 4 Americans who received a data breach notice involving their personal information became victims of ID theft (Javelin Strategy & Research)

See lists of recently reported data breaches at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse

Friendly Fraud

Identity theft cases often involve friends, family or other acquaintances. Common among these crimes is child ID theft, senior ID theft and ID theft through messy divorces. Young adults, college students are easy targets because of their age and inexperience and carefree trust of people they’ve just met. Thieves will use social networking, music downloads and sharing sites, and other shared interests to gain access to a victim’s personal information, passwords or account numbers.

Computer Hacking

Cyber-criminals are experts at breaking into or hi-jacking servers, computers and laptops. Hacker intrusion, including international organized crime rings and terrorist cells have become commonplace – and they now not only target home computers, but also small business computers, looking for financial information about vendors, employees or customers.

If a hacker gains access to a computer, they have access to everything, and probably no one would know they were there. How big of a threat is computer hacking and cyber-crime? Look at these stats:

  • Cyber-criminals capture and sell over $114 billion worth of stolen data each year – compared to only $43 million stolen in bank robberies in 2010! (MSN Money / FBI)
  • At last count, almost 4 million computers are now infected with the Zeus Trojan spyware program that steals online banking login information.


Spyware, viruses, worms, Trojan horses, rootkits and keyloggers are all common tools of the trade for cyber-criminals and ID thieves used to infect computers and capture specific information such as credit card numbers, online banking logins, passwords, Social Security numbers, and more. Captured information automatically transmits to the hacker and is later sold to identity thieves and underground brokers of stolen information.

Viruses are often carriers of these information-capturing tools. Unfortunately, you will likely never know your computer is infected with some of the newer more dangerous hacker tools. Anti-virus/anti-malware software generally does a good job detecting the more common viruses and spyware, but they do not catch everything, and cannot remove certain malware designed to imbed itself right into your computer’s operating system.

It’s best to frequently have trained security professionals do a full system diagnosis and manually find and remove specific hacker tools and infections that can result in identity theft or cyber-crime. Only The Identity Defenders provides services to do just that!

Email Phishing

Phishing attacks can be very sophisticated setups designed to do one thing – extract information from you. Derived from “fishing,” phishing emails are like bait set up by the criminal. In phishing, an legitimate-looking email appears to come from your bank, credit card company, utility, cell phone company, etc., but it actually is coming from a cyber-criminal intending to dupe you into giving them sensitive personal information. Links in a phishing email may immediately install spyware or keyloggers into your computer, and the websites look official, but actually belong to the thief. Phone numbers go to bogus phone centers. NOTICE: Legitimate emails from businesses where you have accounts do not ask for sensitive information via email.

Phone Vishing

Vishing, or “voice phishing” is when you get a call on your phone from someone who says they are from a trusted source, like your bank, credit card company, phone company, utility, etc. They’ll tell you there is a problem with your account, your card, or service – or that your account needs to be updated. They’ll ask you to verify your identity – but they’re not verifying anything, they are simply stealing your account information so they can steal your money. They may even leave a message if you don’t answer and direct you to call a bogus number where the fraudsters are waiting to get you to give them your information.

Text/Cell phone Phishing

Cell phones are increasingly being used in vishing scams – through SMS text messages. You may receive a random text message that appears to be from your bank, etc. – but again, it’s the thief looking for you to respond and give up your information. Vishing victims typically have large amounts of money or all their money withdrawn or wired out of their accounts within just 10 minutes of receiving a vishing phone call.

Your bank, credit card company or any other legitimate business will NEVER ask you to update your account or give up personal information via a text message to your cell phone.

Card Skimming

Skimmers are small electronic devices that thieves place over card slots at gas station pumps, ATM machines or even handheld credit card devices. With card skimmers, everything appears normal to you, but the thief collects your card number and other information from the magnetic stripe when your card is swiped. Now with the new RFID chips embedded in cards, a thief can obtain your information without ever touching a card. The captured information is used to create counterfeit cards or is added to Apple or Android wallet apps to purchase things in your name. This is a fast growing problem, costing consumers and businesses billions each year. You can get RFID protective envelopes and cards from The Identity Defenders.

Change of Address

One of the most used schemes by thieves today is an old school tactic to change the address where you receive mail. A thief simply completes a Change of Address form with the U.S. Postal Service to divert your bills and other personal information into their hands.

Stolen Wallet

Of course, thieves will take the cash and credit cards you have in your wallet. But today’s criminal is also looking for everything they can use to also steal your identity – like your driver’s license, membership cards, bank account numbers, insurance information, and more. Stolen wallets can not go high tech with RFID scanners that can obtain the information off the new chips embedded in credit cards from as far as 6-ft away.

When we learned that our children’s identity could be stolen, we couldn’t keep putting off getting the right protection for our ENTIRE family. iDefend has the most complete protection for us at the best price. We are grateful for iDefend!
Tony L , Pittsburgh, PA

Dumpster Diving

Long before the Internet age, thieves would go through dumpsters at office buildings, mortgage companies, medical clinics, schools, etc. looking for any form of identity information they can get their hands on. They’ll also dig through your personal trash to find old bills and mail like pre-approved credit offers to re-create your identity. Make sure you shred all important documents or mail that you have prior to throwing it away.

Mail Theft

While stealing mail is a federal crime, it’s also an easy way for criminals to steal your identity right from your mailbox, drop box, or mailbox panels. Though many mail thieves are typically looking for cash and valuables, identity thieves know your mail contains much more. Along with pre-approved credit offers, your bank statements, tax information, credit card, mortgage and loan statements are among the common things thieves can use to steal your identity.

Black Market Sales

When hackers and cyber-criminals get their hands large batches of stolen identities from a business or other organization through a data breach, they generally cash out on their crime by selling the stolen IDs on the underground online black market. These black markets for stolen IDs and credit cards are international, typically hosted on websites in countries outside the U.S., but frequented by hackers and thieves around the world who want to buy the stolen data and use it themselves, or to sell to other criminals locally.

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