Who Do You Think Is Going To Steal Your Identity?

When people think about identity theft and identity thieves, they usually have some pre-conceived notions about what identity thieves look like and how they operate.

If you go out and ask a few people what they picture in their minds when you say the word “identity thief,” you’ll probably get a wide variety of responses.

Some people picture identity thieves as lone hackers, sitting in their mother’s basement and typing away at a keyboard, stealing credit card numbers off the internet.

Other people imagine someone standing at a stranger’s mailbox, riffling through mail, looking for pre-approved credit card offers.

While those scenarios do happen (quite often, in fact), they’re not the only threat to people concerned about the security of their financial identity.

Law Enforcement officers are well aware of another, much more dangerous type of identity thief – the type that works with multiple partners. I’m talking about identity theft rings.

Much like shoplifting rings, identity theft rings operate in large groups, roaming throughout the country in search of a market that hasn’t been hit for awhile.

Once an identity theft ring identifies a market, sometimes through the use of scouts, sometimes just by showing up one day, taking a look around and seeing a few easy marks, they can set up shop quickly.

These identity theft rings, who often consist of 5 to 10 people working in conjunction, strategically target high-income individuals. This is a tried-and-true tactic which, if you think about it, makes perfect sense. After all, why would an identity thief risk stealing from people with low credit scores – and low credit limits?

So how does an identity theft ring identify potential victims?

Usually scouts for the group will look for and look into people or groups of people who display indicators of a high income.

Expensive subdivisions are driven through, often while they are under construction. Office building parking lots are staked out, with the best cars being followed home at the end of the day. Gym parking lots are watched and cars glanced into when the individual has gone inside the building and is working out.

In other cases, scouts for the identity theft ring will look into groups of individuals whose personal information has proven to be fairly easy to gather. College professors, teachers, government employees and real estate brokers fall into this category.

With either kind of groups targeted, the identity theft ring then uses an information broker to get the Social Security Numbers of their selected targets. This is usually a simple thing for information brokers to do, as they have access to credit bureau files and just run the names through their databases using what’s called a “national identifier search.” While this is strictly an illegal use of these credit bureau files, there are more than enough corrupt information brokers out there who are perfectly willing to make a few bucks on the side and do this for identity thieves who make it worth their while.

Now, identity theft rings do not want problems to pop up with any of the numbers they buy. If one individual’s Social Security number is found to be less than readily available to the information broker, or if there are flags on the account from a identity theft prevention service, those names are dropped off the list of targets. Usually there are very few names whose files fall into that category, however, and identity thieves are rarely inconvenienced by having large numbers of people using that service. There are hundreds of millions of unprotected people out there, and criminals like to go after low-hanging fruit.

Once the Social Security numbers have been procured, the identity theft ring will then go into overdrive, applying for credit cards, loans, lines of credit and checking accounts – all using the names and Social Security numbers of their pre-selected targets. Those credit card applications, credit cards, and checking account applications are usually mailed to a small apartment or PO box that had been rented as soon as the identity theft ring members got into town.

In what may be a surprisingly short amount of time to you or I, but a completely expected amount of time to professional identity thieves, credit cards and blank checks will begin to show up at the identity thieves’ apartment or at that Post Office box.

As fast as those credit cards and blank checks come in, they go out, in the hands of identity theft ring members whose work consists of buying expensive merchandise – usually computer equipment, jewelry and consumer electronics such as game consoles. Spending cash is obtained by the thieves who hit ATM’s and cash bad checks.

Usually, by the end of the day, there are literally piles of merchandise sitting on the floor, ready to be sold to area fences, at flea markets or to pawn shops.

Within a few weeks, before the new credit card bills start to arrive and before the checks start to bounce, the identity theft ring will sell everything, pack up their tools, and leave town – looking for their next target city and their next group of identity theft victims.

They leave behind them financial disaster.

People whose credit has been perfect (up until now) are now faced with many, many man-hours of work on the phone with credit card companies, businesses in the area and banks who all want to be paid. The police are usually called and time has to be spent with them, clearing things up. Credit bureaus, who report what they’re told to report by the companies who are their customers, are always slow in fixing what was reported erroneously.

Meanwhile, the people who use identity theft prevention services are completely unaware that any of this is going on, unless they see it in the news. All because their names were crossed off the identity thieves’ list at the very beginning of the selection process.

The best way to protect yourself against something is to learn as much as you can about it and do the work yourself.

For those of us who don’t have the time to do that, the next best thing to do is to hire someone who makes it their business to know what we don’t.

You hire a doctor to heal you.

You hire lawyers to defend you.

For just $10 a month or so, you can hire an identity theft prevention service to protect your financial identity from those who would steal it, use it and ruin it.