The fastest growing crime in the world today is identity theft. This is a familiar statistic but very few people truly grasp their vulnerability to this crime. Victims of identity theft can lose job or business opportunities, be refused loans for education, housing, or cars, and even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit.
After initial trepidation and a general principles discourse with our staff, I decided to print a basically uncensored version of an identity theft exercise BNI conducted recently in a Midtown client’s offices. It is my opinion that, at times, stark reality, rather than nuanced language, better conveys the urgency of potential injury that a crime may have on one.
The very real and live in-house demonstration illustrated the relative ease with which identity thieves can operate today. The objective was to obtain a credit card in the client-volunteered control “victim’s” name within two weeks – without the victim’s (even passive) participation or awareness. The audience present during this exercise followed its progress to its conclusion.
The general population’s perception is that an identity thief’s M.O. is to simply obtain a victim’s information, apply and receive credit cards in the victim’s name. Today’s i.d. thieves are much more subtlety proactive. They understand that if the credit card offers come to them, that, in a sense, they have been pre-qualified and the process is exponentially easier and quicker than the conventional apply and wait approach.
The first step in our live exercise was to obtain a bill or invoice in the victim’s name. We opted to go for new cell phone service.
The subject provided BNI operatives with no information. (Well, we knew his name.) While I obviously will not go into exact detail, we were able to easily obtain his driver’s license and Social Security numbers (outlined in previous Bulletins). Heads-Up Tips: 1. The DMV only truncates the final digit of a driver’s license number and a “1″ is not used. 2. By law, information providers must truncate the last 4 SSN digits – on the primary subject. A background check report will generally yield the subject’s relatives and their full SSNs. 3. Many information brokers are based out of country and are not subject (nor do they lend themselves) to US federal privacy and communications rules and regulations.
Armed with the victim’s personal information, our next step was to locate a cell phone service provider online.
The majority of identity theft criminals are very astute observers of human nature. They realize that a popular consumer offer will drive site and caller traffic and potentially overwhelm sales staff. While as state, next step would have been to locate a current offer on cell service provider sites, even that became unnecessary as, upon sign-on, we were greeted by a pop-up ad for cell service and a free phone!
We called the advertising cell service provider.
The sales agent was friendly but as anticipated, quite busy, clipping through the application process.
We provided the subject’s name, driver’s license and Social Security numbers and home address home but directed a different billing address. All information provided was verified, cross-referenced and given the green light by the agent. She only questioned our female investigator re: her gender as the Social Security number related to a male. Advised that it was for a relative with a language barrier issue, the sales agent stated she needed to speak with the “customer” just to get a “yes” from him. She advised that that was the sole requirement. The agent directed our investigator, still under guise of course, to initiate a three-way call (a standard cell phone feature today) and all that would literally be necessary was the word “yes” from the “customer”. Our investigator placed the sales agent on hold, called her partner across the room and connected the calls.
Agent: “Mr. X, do you authorize ABC Co. to provide you with a free Razr phone with a two-year commitment to our service?”
“New Customer”: “Yes”.
A cell phone number was issued within the hour; the Razr phone received and put into use the next day and the following week, credit card offers began pouring in – to the billing address. In most instances, a successful transaction was merely a matter of remitting a 60-second online acceptance form.
So the bottom line is, everyone and anyone can become an identity theft victim. Current federal regulation requires the three major consumer agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion to provide only one free annual credit report per person, upon consumer request. Perhaps providing real time instant online access to one’s credit report is a concept whose time has arrived.
In the meantime, we need to maintain personal vigilance of our credit standing. BNI provides the below contact information regarding identity theft prevention, maintenance and resolution:
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374- 0241
; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
BNI Operatives: A step ahead.
As always, be safe.
- FTC finds child ID theft a growing problem (news.consumerreports.org)