What Do Identity Thieves Do with My Personal Information?
While working for a hospital in Virginia, a woman decided to steal names, dates of births, Social Security and driver's license numbers from about 7 thousand patients. Then, she, along with a male partner in crime opened lines of credit in the names of some of their victims. The damage amounts to around $40 thousand. Predictably, the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes now have some problems with the law.
In the grand scheme of things, $40 thousand is small change. ID theft is one of the most lucrative types of crime at the moment, and some argue that the Internet is to blame for this.
Identity theft and the Internet
The Internet has nothing to do with it. It's the people who don't know how to use it that (unwittingly, in most cases) are responsible for the countless data breaches which, in turn, facilitate ID theft.
Here's a fresh example. An obscure data collecting firm called LocalBlox has tools that crawl Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and a real estate website called Zillow. These tools collected and indexed information from at least 48 million profiles, with the data including, names, emails, postal addresses, phone numbers, and in some cases, even the individual's net worth. Then, LocalBlox put all this data in an unencrypted file and uploaded it to an Amazon S3 bucket that wasn't protected with a password. In other words, it was accessible from anywhere in the world.
Now, you could argue whether or not scraping information about millions of individuals without their consent is identity theft. What you can not dispute, however, is that LocalBlox's sloppy handling of the data could have led to an incident of epic proportions. Let's find out how epic the proportions could be.
Identity theft comes in different shapes and sizes
The act of guessing one's password and hijacking their Facebook profile is considered ID theft. The same goes for compromising their bank account and making off with their money. The consequences largely depend on the type of ID theft.
As the Virginia criminals from the beginning of the article demonstrate, stealing certain types of information allows bad guys to issue credit cards in other people's names. If you’re an avid online shopper, you could have your own credit card stolen and used for buying expensive goods.
In some cases, however, it's not as simple as that. Hackers do love the anonymity the Internet provides, but some of them are still not ready to take all the risks associated with stealing and abusing innocent people's information. Others, however, are, and they're fueling an entire industry.
Data as a commodity
You have probably heard about the dreaded Dark Web. According to the media, it's the go-to place for buying stolen personal information. This is a bit of a myth.
Leaked usernames, passwords, credit cards, and a host of other data can be seen on forums that are accessible through a regular browser and even appear on Google. It's not true that these markets exist only on the so-called Dark Web. It is true that they exist, though.
Gigabytes upon gigabytes of stolen information change hands daily, and the buyers are coming up with increasingly clever ways of using it. Thousands of dollars are spent on the data, and even more money is made by misusing it.
The upshot is, your data is a valuable good, and there are plenty of people willing to buy it. You can never know when it's going to get exposed by a negligent company like LocalBlox, and you can never know where it will end up. Unfortunately, these things are beyond your control, which is why it's best to be extra careful with what you share online.