Unfortunately, identity theft has recently become the fastest growing crime in our increasingly digital world. Potential thieves are becoming extremely adept at leveraging stolen data to empty existing accounts, max credit limits, apply for jobs, and even obtain mortgages. Despite the specifics of the fraud, becoming a victim of identity theft can end up costing you a ton of time, stress, and money.
This is a countdown of the most valuable information identity thieves would just love to get their grubby little hands on. While it’s not a comprehensive guide on how to prevent identity theft, the first step in prevention is knowing what is being targeted.
#16 – Your Hobbies, Club Memberships, or Employer
This might seem like an unusual place to start this countdown, however many aspiring thieves begin their hunt here. This information is insanely easy to obtain, as we rarely protect these details. Once they’ve obtained this information, thieves will either leverage it to pretext (impersonate you) or in various phishing scams (impersonating the club, organization, or even employer). The basic idea is people are much more likely to respond to e-mail and telephone scams when they appear to be from groups they belong to.
#15 – Where You Hold Financial Accounts
Again, the value here lies in the ability for thieves to leverage this information when pretexting or phishing. Thieves will study how major banking and financial institutions contact their customers, in order to make their scams appear more genuine. In general, be wary of ANY e-mail that asks you to provide additional information, even if it looks authentic. Always play it on the safe side by visiting a branch or calling. Some of the most popular phishing scams target Username/Passwords for online financial accounts by asking clients to “log-in” using an application within the e-mail.
#14 – Your Telephone Number
In general, most of us are weary about giving out our phone number based on fear from getting telemarketing or fundraising calls of some sort. While it happens far less frequently, identity thieves aren’t afraid to tap into this medium, as well. Many use automated callers (hoping to get punch in or record information), but some are brave enough to impersonate institutions and call themselves. With only a few pieces of other information, you’d be shocked at how elaborate and effective these types of phishing scams can be.
#13 – Your E-mail Address
Like your telephone number, your e-mail address is most valuable as a medium for phishing scams. E-mails are easier to automate, can be made to look ultra-authentic, and have a higher rate of success than phone or snail-mail. E-mails addresses also carry a little extra weight, as various online accounts allow you to use them as a username (PayPal, anyone?).
#12 – Your Physical Address (including previous ones)
While used more rarely these days as a medium for phishing, the threat of receiving “bait” in the mail is still very real. These attempts can range from phony bills, sweepstakes scams, or change-in-service notifications with bogus customer service telephone numbers. In addition to phishing, thieves can use your address to initiate a “change-of-address,” effectively rerouting all your mail (and the additional information within) for at least a couple days. Lastly, identity thieves can literally visit your home to steal mail, trash, or even information out of your glove box.
#11 – The Expiration Date or Confirmation Code of Your Plastic
While obviously not as valuable as the actual account numbers themselves, these two items are the most common form of security when using your plastic. These can either be picked up by more advance skimmers (a special device attached to common places where you swipe your card) or as the target of a phishing scam. It should go without saying that if someone can piece together your account numbers with one or both of these items, you’re in for some major damage control.
#10 – Where You Were Born
This information is much more valuable than it may first appear. It’s yet another piece of information that can be used when impersonating you and/or verifying “your” identity with various institutions. In addition, thieves can use this to find public records, request birth certificates, and locate relatives. Knowing just someones full name along with the city, county, state, or even nation of birth can open up a portal to the more valuable information later.
#9 – Your Mother’s Maiden Name
Ah, the default piece of information used to verify so many accounts. Luckily, this has been so popular for so long that many organizations are shying away from even offering it as a verification option. Despite this trend, a vast majority of them still DO accept it. My suggestion? With so many other options available for verification, why use this one? If you have a choice, utilize a more random and difficult-to-guess verification question/method.
#8 – Your Banking PINs
Your Personal Identification Numbers or PINs act as mini-passwords (most 4-6 numbers in length) to your financial accounts. Unfortunately, many people use anniversaries, birthdays, or other easily guess personal information. Even worse, they store their PINs in their wallet! It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet in the event it gets lost or stolen. With your PIN thieves can withdraw cash directly, swipe debit without producing additional i.d., or gain full access to your online accounts.
#7 – Your Passport Number
A passport number in conjunction with an illegal database can result in a wealth of information for thieves. Passport numbers can yield full names, date of birth, place of birth, and of course nationality. If your physical passport is snatched, the consequences go downhill quickly. With an altered picture, a thief could use your passport to open accounts internationally, resulting in some rather complex problems you’ll have to clean up.
#6 – Your Driver’s License Number
Your driver’s license number is much like your passport number, but because it is more common and contains more information it is actually much more valuable. Amongst the information that can be illegally obtained through you DLN is your full name, date of birth, address, and basic personal appearance data (height, weight, eye & hair color). If physically stolen they are easier to alter successfully than passports and will usually result in less scrutiny.
#5 – Your Online Passwords (including usernames)
With everything moving online these days, your online usernames and passwords are becoming more and more valuable. It should be blatantly obvious that if a thief got his/her hands on your financial institutions log-in information, you’d be toast. You can do a lot with online banking these days. Let’s even assume that they only get your e-mail password or even just a social media account. Unfortunately, I’d be scared to admit what other information would be attainable if my e-mail was compromised. Bottom line… be careful what information you send through e-mail and be sure to create kick-ass passwords.
#4 – Your Actual Account Numbers
In terms of stealing from your current accounts (opposed to using your info to open new accounts), your actual account numbers are the primary target of thieves. The most common accounts are checking, savings, credit cards, and debit cards, but don’t rule out protecting your investment and retirement accounts. A thief can do a lot with just the full account numbers, but if they’re able to match it with numbers 8, 11, or 15… watch out.
#3 – Your Full Name (including aliases)
While this may seem too basic to include on the list (especially this low), it’s value is so immense that it can’t be neglected. “Name as it appears on card” is one of the most common security checks for online credit purchases. In addition, it’s clearly essential when generating/opening new fraudulent accounts. While a name like Adam Baker isn’t going to cause any problems, names like Robert, Richard, and Elizabeth can result in many different aliases. Finding your full birth name and common aliases is the base for everything else!
#2 – Your Date of Birth
Again, another bread-and-butter piece of personal information. But, like your full name, it’s value lies in the fact that it’s used in the creation of nearly every account. It’s also one of the most common and easily-used pieces of information to verify existing accounts. Along with the one before it and after it, this comprised what I like to call the “Big 3″ of your identity (at least to the government/corporate worlds).
#1 – Your Social Security Number
Ah, the golden ticket. So obvious, you probably guessed it from the get-go. Unfortunately, this magical number is used by nearly every government and financial institution as the primary form of identity. It out ranks even your name, which can vary from institution to institution depending on minor details. While it may be a sad situation that your entire life can be summed up with a number… it can. It’s our system and this is your only key. Protect it!
Identity thieves utilize a wide variety of techniques to obtain your personal data. While I’ve touched upon a couple above, much more in-depth information is available on the official site of the Federal Trade Commission.
You may also enjoy my previous list of 33 Ways To Thwart Identity Theft for more helpful tips on how to protect yourself.
What’s your opinion? Do you have something to add to the list? What do you think is most valuable to potential thieves? What steps do you take to protect your personal data? Join in on the discussion by leaving your comments below!
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