An introduction to identity cloning and how it differs from identity theft: Internet ScamBusters #266
Today we cover a very serious issue that almost no one knows about; it's called identity cloning. Fortunately, it's also quite rare, but identity cloning is something you definitely should be aware of -- and it is something you might want to warn your family and friends about.
Unlike "simple" identity theft, identity cloning is worse than stealing personal and financial information for specific purposes -- like ordering products from the Internet using your credit card data or using your Social Security number to get a job. True identity clones actually pretend to BE you, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Today, we'll tell you what to watch out for and how to protect yourself from identity clones.
Identity Cloning: Attack of the Identity Clones
Just as you're pulling into your driveway after a much-deserved vacation, you spot a woman at your front door signing for a UPS package.
She's dressed in the same clothing you normally wear, has the same hairstyle, carries the same designer handbag, and her car (parked by your driveway) is the same make and model as yours.
When you call out to her, saying "What are you doing!?" she flees to her car and "burns rubber." Fortunately, she drops her handbag in the process. When you pick it up and examine the bag's contents, you notice that her Social Security card, driver's license and several credit cards all bear your name and address!
For all intents and purposes, she IS you.
This may sound like a "Twilight Zone" episode, but it's not. It's the bizarre world of identity cloning.
A Rare Form of Identity Theft
Some people use the terms "identity theft" and "identity cloning" interchangeably. But they are definitely NOT the same thing.
Identity thieves steal personal and financial information for specific purposes. For example, they might want your name, address, Social Security number and credit card data in order to buy products in physical stores or online, or to get a line of credit or buy property. Or they may want to sell this information on the black market.
True identity clones, however, want to actually assume your identity. They want to BECOME you.
In a videotaped interview with an expert, Sutree.com reports that identity clones "... actually live and work as you. They even pay the bills as you. They get married as you. They have kids as you. They send their kids to school as you."
"I have a client, a woman, who I worked with not too long ago... [She] worked behind a cosmetics counter at a large department store for many, many years. She had a lot of different types of people coming in to buy cosmetics. Some of her clientele [were] men who were transvestites.
"... One of the men ... got plastic surgery, got a full blown sex change and eventually actually became her by taking her name and her Social Security number, and [he] actually thought he was her. That is identity cloning in the truest sense."
Unlike "garden variety" identity thieves, identity clones want even MORE information about you, so they can impersonate you for years and years.
They want to know where you grew up, who your friends are, which church you attend, which retailers you frequent, how you dress, which cosmetics you use -- anything that can help them impersonate you.
Who Are Identity Clones?
Some identity clones have been known to go to ridiculous extremes to impersonate people, and these types of clones are often mentally ill.
Most identity clones are people trying to escape the law and/or their creditors. In other words, they're "on the lam," and trying to hide out until the "heat is off."
Many of these thieves look to the deceased for help. They search for people (often young people) who have died, and steal their Social Security and/or birth certificate information.
Then they assume the identity of the "dearly departed" to get passports, credit cards, car loans, mortgages -- you name it. With just a little basic information, it can be easy for an identity clone to build a reputation as the person they are imitating.
This isn't to say that an identity clone will decide to be "John Smith" for the rest of his life. Some thieves will change identities as often as it suits them -- becoming Susan B. Anthony or Abraham Lincoln, whenever necessary. (OK, we realize that they probably wouldn't use those names.) 😉
How can you tell if you've been a victim of identity cloning?
In most cases, the only way to know if you've been scammed is to order a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion or Equifax.
You can find out how to contact these companies at Can You Really Get a Free Credit Report -- Without Getting Scammed?
If you've truly been a victim of identity cloning, the first thing you'll probably notice on the report is duplicate addresses for your bank and credit accounts.
And, if you're a member of a professional organization -- those for doctors or lawyers, for example -- you may see two (or more) people registered with your name and address.
Some identity clones choose to impersonate doctors and lawyers so they can practice those professions without a license -- while earning hefty salaries.
We hate to say this, but if you've been the victim of identity cloning, it will take some time and money to remedy the situation. You will likely have to hire an attorney or a private investigator to prove that you -- not the clone -- are the "real deal."
But if you're vigilant in protecting your identity and regularly request copies of your credit reports, it's unlikely that you'll discover an identity clone signing for a UPS package at your front door when you return from vacation.
You can find a lot of great information on protecting yourself from identity theft at our Identity Theft Information Center.
Note: identity cloning is more frequent (and usually less damaging) in online contexts. For example, people will sometimes pretend to be you when playing Internet video games such as World of Warcraft.
But that's another matter -- one we'll probably cover in a future ScamBusters issue. So that's all for today -- we'll see you next week.