Identity Theft Hurts: Part 1

By Donna Marrin

Imagine this: A stranger finds a way to steal your personal information, be it your social insurance number, driver's license number, credit card and bank account numbers, your mother's maiden name. Then he uses this information to obtain lines of credit and credit cards from banks and retailers, siphon money from your existing accounts, apply for loans, open accounts with utility companies, rent lodging, file bankruptcy, obtain a job. He uses your name to wreak havoc. It takes you months, even years, to get your life, and your credit rating, back to normal. This isn’t a nightmare—it’s an alarming trend that’s happening right now to people like you.

Let’s look at some facts:

• According to law enforcement officials, identity theft is today’s fastest growing crime
• Criminals will use a victim's identity to commit a wide range of crimes—from traffic violations to felonies
• Armed with only the victim’s social insurance number, birth date and an address and phone number, a criminal can use this information, combined with a forged driver's license displaying their own picture, to begin a crime spree in your name.

What spells ‘opportunity’ to a criminal?

  1. Recent Death
    A criminal will do groundwork to locate addresses of any recently deceased by browsing obituary columns in the newspaper, monitoring selected residences and grabbing any mail that accumulates. It may take a few days or as long as a month to collect what they need before they can steal an identity. They look for bank statements, credit card receipts, tax bills, utility bills, and they will pick through garbage if necessary. They depend on the deceased’s loved ones being so distraught that they neglect to notify the post office about cancellation of mail delivery.

  2. High-Tech Tools
    Probably the easiest way to steal an identity is by using a computer recording device (spyware) that transfers information from the victim's computer to the thief's. Spyware records all your computer activity: passwords, banking information, credit card numbers, private emails, chat-line conversations. All of your information is funneled directly into a free and untraceable email account, whereupon an automated process scans to extract your most high-security information. You won’t know what hit you until it’s too late. Thieves often also send out emails disguised to appear to be from legitimate businesses requesting personal data.

  3. Easy-To-Access Mailboxes
    What's an identity thief's handiest tool? Your mailbox. Any mailbox that offers easy access is fair game. Typically, they seek out bills detailing your personal information. They are not averse to rummaging through your garbage either, in search of personal information. They will go so far as to submit a change of address notice to the post office, having your mail rerouted to a new post office box. They will send in those “pre-approved credit card offers” that they’ve picked from your trash, to credit card companies, with a “new address” substituted. Of course, the new card—with your name on it—is then sent directly to the thief.

  4. "Lost" ID
    Forgery of social insurance cards, driver’s licenses and birth certificates is big business. The only equipment needed is a computer, a good printer, and the right software—easy to find on the Web if you know what to look for. An electronic device called a “skimmer” can be connected to the credit card reader at restaurants or any cash station; it reads the magnetic strip on your card then transmits your personal information to another location, where it is re-encoded and used to create a fraudulent credit card.

  5. Out on the Town with Your Guard Down
    Worst case scenario: a waiter or salesperson retains a record of your card number, expiry date and security code on the back of your card, waits a few weeks, then uses your information to go on an online shopping spree. It has happened. Trying to determine exactly where and when your card numbers were stolen are next to impossible.
    And how careful are you with your password while using an ATM machine? A device similar to the skimmer can be installed to read your card’s data and if the thief happens to be close enough to look over your shoulder as you input your PIN, it won’t be long before you discover that your bank account has been siphoned.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of Identity Theft Hurts: Prevention is your Best Revenge.

Donna Marrin is a freelance Senior Writer/Editor specializing in corporate communications and advertising. She also founded and runs the Markham Village Writers. You can visit their website at

By Adam

May 18, 2010