Identity Theft takes place whenever a criminal gets hold of a piece of your information, and then uses that information for their own personal gain.

While a lost or stolen wallet, purse or cellphone may simply mean the loss of your cash and credit cards, it may also be the beginning of an identity theft case. The return of the item does not guarantee cards were not copied, or that the your personal information was not used to commit identity theft.

In the previous article I pointed out 5 areas in your world where identity theft could take place that were actually rather low-tech.

  • Old-fashioned letters (including junk-mail)
  • The trash can
  • Flash disks
  • Your drivers license or ID Document
  • Household paperwork.

Don’t think that identity theft is always “high-tech”. It can happen to anyone, even if they don’t have a computer, don’t make use of social media or don’t own a cell-phone!

Dumpster diving – literally digging through your trash – remains a popular method for stealing large amounts of your personal information. South Africans receive over 1.2 million tons of junk mail every year and much of this mail – such as pre-approved credit cards, credit card bills, and bank statements – includes your personal information. Dumpster-diving identity thieves root through your trash because they know the documents you discard as garbage contain personal identity information that can be used in a variety of illegal manners, like employment-related fraud, loan fraud, bank fraud, benefits fraud and tax fraud.

Mail Theft – Mail theft is the number 1 white collar crime in the USA today. Mail theft is a crime and is defined as anyone taking any piece of mail, be it a letter or a package, for any purpose. This includes stealing from post ofice workers, from private mail boxes, from collection boxes and even from mail trucks. One of the main motivators in mail theft is to steal that person’s identity and receive access to their private information, including bank accounts and credit cards.

Social Engineering – Social engineering is the art of manipulating people so they give up confidential information. The types of information these criminals are seeking can vary, but when individuals are targeted, the criminals are usually trying to trick you into giving them your passwords or bank information. Criminals use social engineering tactics because it is usually easier to exploit your natural inclination to trust, than it is to discover ways to hack your software. For example, it is much easier to fool someone into giving you their password than it is for you to try hacking their password. That is why phishing is so successful, often victims willingly give their personal information to the scammers, as they feel they can trust the person asking for the information.

Shoulder-surfing – Shoulder surfing occurs when someone watches over your shoulder to steal valuable information such as your password, ATM PIN, or credit card number, as you key it into a device such as an ATM or tablet. When the shoulder-surfer uses your information for his financial gain, the activity becomes identity theft.

Theft of personal items – When a personal item like a handbag, a wallet or purse, a cellphone, or a laptop is stolen, all the information in that item can potentially be used for identity theft. The value of the stolen items is often not much, and replacement is more of an inconvenience to many of us, however your personal information can never be recovered, and is intrinisically more valuable than the item that was stolen!

What can you do to minimize “low-tech” identity theft?

  • Never give out personal or financial information over the phone or in an email.
  • šPassword-protect your cellphone.
  • šShred credit card receipts, junk mail, and other such documents with sensitive personal or financial information.
  • Be aware of your surroundings at all time.
  • Tilt the screen of your cellphone screen away from the person next to you and stop working in crowded airplanes, trains, airports, cafes, hotel lobbies and other public spaces
  • Work with your back to a wall preventing others from getting behind you and looking over your shoulder.

Next time we will look at the modus operandi of high-tech identity thieves.

Keep safe out there,

David Wiles