A new tool against your money being taken and your identity being stolen is a really old one, the humble shredder. Time was the idea of identity theft made for good movies and heist films, and the idea of the con man seemed a little detached from reality, you got the usual fishing attempts from time to time (or phishing as it’s termed in tech). For years we’ve all got the usual spam e-mails from some supposed member of a royal family from some troubled third world country seeking help in moving their millions in exchange for a small commission, and, the majority of people are smart enough not to click on the link or send their bank details. Recently these have gotten a little more sophisticated, with e-mails that mimic your banks graphics and even use domains and links that are close to your actual supplier, but again with a sharp eye you can spot the deception.
These techniques to get you to inadvertently give away personal information or worse flat-out hand over your cash. It’s almost got to the point that we are so used to seeing these mails in our inbox that we mentally filter them out if our spam filter doesn’t. One of the most challenging and growing issues online is not so much the interception of credit card details or bank information with the intention of getting your money, but that of complete identity theft. Losing money if your credit card is exposed to an insecure site online is terrible, but hopefully if this occurs you can get onto your financial institution and notify them (assuming they didn’t notify you) of the fraud, and, if they agree, let them go after the guilty party and you get your money back.
Identity theft is a bigger beast to tackle. Although people have a vague idea of what the term is, and assume that it will never affect them, it can and does more that you think. People live in the belief that there are so many people out there who are more careless and therefore they don’t need to worry about the safety of their identity. Worse, many people assume the worst that can happen is things like Facebook hacking where someone posts things on your behalf which do not represent you. The truth is that this is a much bigger issue than people realize, and more than that, it’s not just online and can have devastating effects on your day-to-day life for years.
Recent high-profile data breaches which I have talked about before show how easy it is, even for huge, seemingly careful companies, to accidentally let your details slip online. What can people do with this you ask? Imagine if you can, a situation where someone has your name address and phone number. Seems like nothing, and that is true, but with the added piece of information such as your social security number they now have enough information to sign up for something online and pretend to be you. And believe me it is that simple. Sure they’ll be asked for your mothers maiden name or some other relevant piece of info, but how difficult is this to Google?
I’ve mentioned before that this mainly affects anything online, but there is one step further which is on the rise. The physical identity theft. This is where someone actually gets their hands on a copy of your ID or a copy of a bill or a bank statement in your name with all your details. The worst part about this is that the way they get it is so low tech it’s shocking. I live in an apartment block which has a bin service in the basement. Not easy to get to but if you know your way around the underground car park you can find your way to where everyone in the complex leaves their trash. You can probably get where I’m going with this.
It’s still the case that people get posted utility bills and bank statements, in fact some are regulated so that they are obliged to send you regular statements for one reason or another. Some people choose to file these away, but more and more people think, ‘ah sure, I can get a copy of this online’ and tend to bin them without thinking. Believe it or not, people will dumpster dive to fish out these documents and all of a sudden they have a genuine, physical proof of address that was actually sent to your address. With this someone can open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, mobile phones and more.
In case you think I’m exaggerating, when I was in college, I worked for a mobile phone retails store. In order for someone to sign up for a bill pay account and avail of the newest and greatest phone they had to provide ID and proof of address. I’d estimate that I had at least 1 fraudulent customer per day come in the door with a bank statement they had fished out of the trash. Using that they could get the easier to get ID’s which could then in turn be used to get more difficult ID’s like Garda cards, and drivers licences etc. Seems like a lot of work, but someone could go from store to store in a time before databases were centralized and sign up for dozens of accounts, get dozens of phones they could sell, and use the sim cards and numbers for as long as it took for the bank or mobile provider to realize that it wasn’t legitimate.
All of a sudden from the humble bank statement thrown in the trash, you potentially had 20 mobile phones in your name from 3 different providers, direct debits coming out for hundreds of euros on each and the responsibility was on you to prove that they were criminal, otherwise this could destroy your credit rating, potentially cost you thousands and much worse. While the companies have a duty to check the details, it’s very difficult when than paper provided is actually real. Otherwise we would have had to reject each application which obviously wasn’t feasible.
The title for this article suggests a solution for this happening, and it’s something I’ve advocated for years. The purchase of a €40 / €50 shredder for your house is a new security must have. Resist the temptation to throw those bills into the bin or recycling until you’ve well and truly made them unusable. While you may still be saying, this is unlikely to happen to me, just remember that its estimated that In the past six years identity thieves have stolen over $107 billion from American consumers alone. More than 5% of the population per annum. You might get lucky this year or the next, but if you are being careless about your physical identity documents you might just be tempting fate.