How Do Criminals Get Your Personal Information?

Identity Theft is not a new crime, but it is the fastest growing one.  With the latest technological advancements and developments, the criminals are getting more creative.  Your information could be obtained in various ways.  Here are just a few examples:

Dumpster Diving 

Your trash is someone’s treasure. Literally!   The thieves may rummage through your trash, public trash dumps, or the trash of businesses.  Dumpster diving is not illegal and only becomes illegal when a crime occurs.  In 2002, Experian, a credit reporting agency, conducted its own research to examine the contents of 400 domestic bins in UK to see how easy it is for the “treasure seekers” to obtain personal information. They found some disturbing facts:

  • 72% of bins contained the full name and full address of at least one member of a household
  • 2 in 5 (about 40%) of the bags contained a whole credit or debit card number
  • 80% of those numbers had an expiration date
  • 1 in 5 (about 20%) bins contained a bank account number and sort code that could be related to an individual’s name and address
  • And guess what? One bin even contained a signed blank check!
  • Only 8% of households throwing away full card numbers made an attempt to destroy the documents
  • Only 14% contained nothing of interest to fraudsters

A lot of homeless people go through trash, not a big deal- a piece of paper with some of your information is not very useful to them.  They are looking for food and recyclable materials.  “Dumpster Diving” for the purpose of obtaining information is an organized crime.  Sometimes even shredded documents are recovered and tediously put back together piece by piece by hired Meth users, who are unable to sleep sometimes for days.  Gang members strategically go through 200-300 dumpsters a day.  Your information could be sold on the black market or used to obtain credit, etc. 

You should always destroy your statements, pre-approved offers, expired credit and debit cards, receipts, etc.  Consider buying a new heavy-duty shredder which has the cross shredding feature and is able to destroy plastic.  If you have a fire-place, burn your documents.  Sometimes you must save the receipts for tax purposes.  There is a great software called Shoeboxed which allows you to scan, save and organize your receipts by category.  They offer a free trial for 30 days with no obligation.

Change of Address 

By filling out a Change of Address form at the post office, the identity thief can have your bills and other personal mail diverted to a new address.  It may take you days or weeks to realize what has happened and make the correction.  If it happens to you, correct the problem with the postal office ASAP.

Skimming

The thieves may steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a small data storage device about the size of a credit card called a skimmer.  They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the skimmer to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card gathering all of your personal information contained on the credit card.  Often it is used in conjunction with a pinhole camera to record your PIN number.  Using credit card stock and credit card encoder, which can be easily purchased on-line, the thieves will then create a fake credit card with your information and vu-a-la! They are in business.

Stealing the Old-Fashioned Way

Raise your hand if you lost your purse or wallet.  Has your wallet or a purse been stolen?  Consider caring only one credit or debit card and your Driver’s License.  Leave your SS card at home in a safe place.  The thieves  may steal your mail from your own mail box, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information.  How many times have you left outgoing mail for a pick up with a little red flag up?  Consider dropping off your outgoing mail at the post office.

Phishing 

Phishing is referred to the criminal activity of trying to obtain personal sensitive information such as usernames, bank accounts, PINs, passwords and credit and debit card details by acting as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.  Phishing is typically carried out by an e-mail or instant messaging.  This messages usually refer to some type of alert in a security breach, alleged multiple attempts logging in to the account and often instructs unsuspecting users to enter details at a fake website whose look and feel are almost identical to the legitimate one. Legitimate emails from your bank or other sites you are doing business with will carry a greeting using your first and last name.  Fake emails/messages use very generic greeting, for example “Dear Member”.  There are a lot of misspellings and many times an IP address is visible in the link.  So, pay attention!

Workplace Identity Theft

Have you ever applied for a job?  Of course, you have.  We all have at one point or another.  Some criminals post illegitimate job vacancies with the hopes of obtaining your personal information.  These are posted on free classifieds and major job boards and newspapers.  You would be surprised of what type of information applicants offer on their resume and applications voluntarily!   As a recruiter, I have received resumes from candidates who listed  sensitive information such as their DRL# and SS#! How about temporary workers handling a lot of sensitive information?  Or what about a disgruntled employee?

The thieves may get your credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report.

Identity theft can happen to anyone and anywhere.    See a few suggestions on how to protect yourself HERE.

About the Author

Lana is a real life Identity Theft Victim. Identity Theft Manifesto is a result of her own struggles to clear her credit, her name and reputation. She is on the mission to research, learn more and educate her readers about ID Theft Crime.