During the holiday season, we often run into relatives that we rarely see, might never have known and recap the year’s changes re: births, deaths… within the family. We make promises to be in touch and oftentimes, we now turn to technology – in the form of ancestry sites, to help us maintain our family ties.
There are many ancestry sites online that help us reconnect with our lost, or find unknown, family members. A majority of these sites can disappoint by posting incomplete, mismatched records, dubious source information… The most popular ancestry site, Ancestry, rises above these issues by operating on a legitimate, comprehensive, matched data verification system. Annual registration for Ancestry starts at roughly $150 year and, of course, there are buy-ons you can add to your account.
Regardless of the perceived security of ancestral online database membership, these sites often, inadvertently provide a gateway for gathering personal information by identity thieves. While phishing (hacking) is still the preferred method of anonymously obtaining personal data, our savvy thieves realize that they can potentially legally get away with obtaining the information they seek by carefully selecting their victims.
The general M.O. of an i.d. theft criminal is to locate a “mark”, someone who appears isolated from the rest of the family, generally someone old, lonely, naive, confined or infirm. The use of an ancestry site allows the thief to gain insider information on the victim’s family. Perceived familiarity can put an innocent, unsuspecting person at ease.
From there, it is simple for an i.d. thief to run a background check on his target on any number of the data providers now available online. This search can yield hard information; ranging from current address, address histories, mortgages, voter registration, professional licenses, email addresses, phone number, relatives, neighbors…
If a criminal takes the time, he can form a fairly accurate profile of his target before the victim is even aware that anyone is looking into his/her background.
Some helpful hints to keep identity thieves off-base.
If a site demands your SSN, do not provide it.
DOBs are optional. (Most legitimate sites will allow you to simply click off that you are over 13 y.o.)
In filling out promotional offers (and we all do this!), use a middle initial not associated with your real name. It’ll allow you to keep track of how your personal information is being distributed.
If you wish to add pictures on the site you wish to join, a) elect for the pictures are to be available only to those you chose to opt in and b) upload a generic pic that does not have your house number or vehicle plate or other identifiers in the photo.
If you’ve taken as many preventative measures as possible and still get “phished” or have your identity stolen, you need to contact your local police immediately as well as your banking institutions, medical, driver’s insurance companies and alert your friends and family so that they will be aware and not inadvertently release additional personal information.
Good luck and as they say in poker, keep your cards close to your vest.
BNI Operatives: Street smart; Web savvy.
As always, stay safe.