All About Identity Theft: Latest Tricks and Techniques Keep Identity Theft at Top of Scam Charts

What you need to know about identity theft — stolen wallets, papers and new phishing tricks underlie the rocketing growth of identity theft: Internet Scambusters #356

We’ve written a lot about identity theft over the years. Millions of people are now targeted by identity theft attempts every day, ensuring the crime remains the number one scam both online and in the real world.

Over time, different ID theft techniques fall in and out of favor with the crooks, as people wise up to their game.

In this update, we highlight the most common current identity theft methods — some long-standing, others only now coming into “fashion.”

Now, here we go…

All About Identity Theft: Latest Tricks and Techniques Keep Identity Theft at Top of Scam Charts

Identity theft has been the number one scam both on the Internet and in the real world for more than a decade. And the bad news is… it’s not just growing but rocketing, as crooks launch ever more sophisticated ID theft tricks.

New Identity Theft Facts

According to the latest figures, there are now at least 8 million identity theft attempts online every day. Yes, that’s right, 8 million every single day!

Fortunately, most of them don’t succeed, but even the tiny fraction of the number that do leads to a multi-billion-dollar crime business and months or years of misery for the victims.

They come via face-to-face cons, emails, phone calls and via almost 10,000 individual websites that exist for no other purpose than to upload malware onto your PC, and/or to steal personal information and passwords.

And the number of different types of viruses and Trojans that carry out these ID thefts scams has soared by 600% this year alone, according to a new report from Panda Security.

So we make no apology for returning to the subject of identity theft for this issue, to bring you the latest information on the most common tricks and techniques currently in use, together with updated information on ID theft protection and ID theft prevention.

First though, we recommend you check out — either now or when you’ve finished reading this issue — the Scambusters Identity Theft Information Center, where you will find more detail and links to other useful articles on the subject — including what you should do to report ID theft.

About Identity Theft…

In fact, although it’s a wide and sometimes complex subject, identity theft boils down to two simple techniques:

  • Stealing information about you from a variety of sources, ranging from your wallet to your medical records.
  • Tricking you into giving confidential information about yourself, like your Social Security number and passwords, better known as phishing (for more on phishing see Phishing Scams: How You Can Protect Yourself).

With the first type of ID theft, research suggests that by far the most common current technique is straightforward theft of wallets and purses via pickpockets — in crowds, in grocery stores, at events — or sneak thefts in hotel rooms, student dorms and gym locker rooms.

Indeed, in one of the most high-profile recent incidents, the wife of Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, had her purse containing ID documents stolen outside a Capitol Hill coffee shop.

The answer, of course, is always to safeguard your wallet. Keep it under cover and keep your hand on it — and only carry essential items in it. For instance, memorize your Social Security number and don’t carry your card.

Law enforcement also reports a recent rise in data theft from trash cans. This can be in the form of personal information and account numbers on documents you’ve discarded, but it’s also possible for thieves to recover credit card invitations you threw away and apply for finance in your name.

The solution: Shred everything that has your name or other personal information on it. (See this Scambusters issue, Shredding: A Key Weapon in Your Document Security and Identity Theft Prevention Strategies, for a special look at shredding.)

The other recent key trend in this area of identity theft is the loss of information that you are personally powerless to prevent.

This ranges from a waiter recording your credit card details (including that all-important security number on the back), when you pay your restaurant check, through to the massive-scale hacking of business computers on which your personal details are stored, the biggest of which this year saw millions of accounts compromised.

You may not be able to stop ID theft of this type but you can take important steps to limit its impact — by monitoring your accounts online, keeping a check on your credit score, and/or subscribing to an ID theft protection service. (TrustedID.)

Again, you will find details on how to do these things via the Scambusters Identity Theft Information Center.


Turning to the question of phishing, it seems that identity thieves are inventing new tricks almost every week to fool you into giving away that vital information.

Over the past couple of years, the most common technique for this type of ID theft has been to send you a message — by phone, by text message, or by email — suggesting there’s a problem with your bank account.

They ask you to phone a particular number or visit a certain website where you are supposed to disclose your account details.

A new, sneaky variation of this is to spoof the website of major online retailers, like Amazon, who do legitimately hold your credit card number and other financial details.

You’re fooled into visiting these phony websites, which collect your sign-on details for these retailers. The crooks then sign on to your real account and pick up your bank and card details there.

Avoid these identity theft tricks by always keying web addresses into your browser rather than clicking links and by checking in the address bar that the legitimate address is shown.

With phone contact, never respond directly to messages that appear to come from your bank. Get the correct bank number from your statement or the phone book and contact them directly.

Of course, the broader point here is that, to prevent ID theft, you should never trust that a caller is who they say they are, and therefore never give out your credit card details to anyone who phones you. You can find more on caller ID spoofing in our article: Scammers Can Now Use Fake Caller ID Number.

This defense would avoid one of the latest telephone phishing tricks which is plaguing newspaper classified advertisers.

The scammer calls numbers from the classified columns, claiming to be the publisher and telling the advertiser there’s a problem with their payment. They then insist the victim pays by credit card immediately.

Action: Just don’t. Hang up and call the newspaper yourself.

Finally, one of the fastest-rising and saddest sources of phishing for identity theft targets unemployed people by asking them to provide Social Security numbers and other personal information on job application forms.

We’ve reported on this method of ID theft before in Poor Economy, New Tricks Drive Up Job Scams By 500%, but with unemployment so high, more and more people are being scammed this way every day.

The answer is to thoroughly check out any prospective employer before providing any personal details. Check them online, with the local Chambers of Commerce and state licensing authorities.

As we said at the outset, you’ll find more guidance on what you can do to report ID theft and stop ID theft in our Identity Theft Information Center.

The fact is that incidence of identity theft is only headed in one direction — upwards. But count on Scambusters to continue helping you minimize the risks and impact of identity theft hitting you.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!