The Information Age – The Cold Irony…

There are many stories recently about hackers gaining access to personal information on the Internet. That plus the use of personal information by certain companies who prey on unsuspecting users who are on Facebook or other social media, is taking center stage of late.   All of these situations point to one specific fact, our online security is not nearly as advanced as it should or could be.

Did you know that over fifteen million (15,000,000) consumers in the United States are victims of identity theft that they know about?  There are almost as many that are victims of the crime annually who are not even aware of it until its too late.    Over twenty-five (25%) of all US consumers were notified of one data breach or the other by a bank, credit card company or social media company just this past year.  Cybercriminals have stolen approximately Fifteen Billion ($15,000,000,000.00) or more from unsuspecting individuals like you and I annually.  Since the introduction of EMV or Chip imbedded credit cards, actual card cloning is down slightly.   Debit card theft is up across the nation with most card cloning being done at gas stations, convenience stores and/or fast food locations.

Another offshoot of credit card fraud is to now steal your information and sell it on the “Dark Web”.  Over Five Billion dollars ($5,000,000,000.00) annually is stolen by account “takeovers”.   This is when cyber or identity thieves steal your identity using your debit card and some other pertinent information.  They take control of your debit card, use the account it is linked to and/or open new accounts in your name.  Mostly credit card accounts and other charge cards or credit products as well as bank accounts.   Utilizing the personal information they are able to have multiple accounts in a subjects name for a decent enough period of time in order to get the max out of the theft.

Information is also used for employment or tax related fraud.   Over thirty percent (30%) of all financial fraud is employment or tax fraud.  How so you may ask?  Well with your personal information, say your name, address, social security number and some passwords you use, a cyber criminal has access to any information they really want.   Is it that easy you also ask?  Yeah well unfortunately it is extremely easy.

As part of our ongoing series on these issues and with our extensive relationships with law enforcement, we were able to speak with a former cyber thief who is now on probation following several convictions for identity theft and cyber crime.   Tom as he refers to himself, spoke to us on condition of autonomy about how he is now assisting law enforcement with focusing their efforts on trying to stop as much of these thefts as they can.   Please see our conversation below-


RI:   Tom, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today.

Tom:  No problem. 

RI:   Tom, can you tell us how easy it is to get someone’s personal information on the Internet?

Tom:  All the information everyone uses is out there.  People like me mine the Internet for it and then it is sold on the Dark Web.

RI:  Sold?  For how much?

Tom:  Usually someone’s whole file is worth say a bit over a thousand or so.

RI:  So, for $5,500 I could buy information on five people at least?

Tom:  Yes. 

RI:  What would someone like you make off of the five people we are hypothetically discussing?

Tom:  Well, depends on the people.  But lets say we can normally make $5,000 to $10,000 a person. 

RI:  So, a file that costs you a bit over a $1,000 per person can make you five to ten times your money.

Tom:  Yes.  

RI:  With returns like that it’s no wonder cyber criminals and hackers are continuing to try to puncture any security there is.

Tom:  (laughs)  People make billions of dollars doing this.   Whole cartels are on the Dark Web trafficking in stolen information.

RI:  How is all this information stolen?

Tom:  Most of are known as Phishing Scams.   Emails or texts sent to you that look real enough but aren’t real at all.   You think you’re putting in information for your bank or leasing company but you are really giving it someone like me. 

RI:  Once you get it do you use it immediately?

Tom:  Depending on how strong your credit and income are, depends on whom gets to use your information and when.  A lot of this stuff is packaged and sold to the highest bidder.   

RI:  So for arguments sake twenty or so people with the same high credit and income level are worth more than younger people with lower scores or people new into the credit market?

Tom:  Yes the more you can get out of someone’s file the more it is worth.

RI:  Tom, why is this form of crime growing exponentially on an annual basis?

Tom:  It’s simple.   We do everything online now.   Everything. Our society has pushed us to live our entire lives wirelessly.   So it is amazingly easy to steal your information and use it.   The more shopping we all do online the easier we are making it for people like me.

RI:   So you are really saying that in a way, we are responsible for our own demise. The information age has given way to the new criminal age?

Tom:  Pretty much.  The same technological advancements that assist people with selling goods and services online have led to the information being readily available. Anytime such information is easy to get, it is almost impossible to protect from it getting out there.

RI:   From your perspective, now that you are on the other side of the equation, what can be done to stop people like you?

Tom:  Not much.   Law enforcement is too overwhelmed to find it all.  They aren’t as trained or talented.  And quite frankly they aren’t paying attention unless it’s a lot of money.  This is done by stealing a little from a lot of people. Also, think about the profit potential from all of this theft, the more that something is worth profit wise, it makes it harder to protect against.  

RI:  What can be done to stop it Tom?

Tom:  Probably not a lot until we advance technology forward for security and give law enforcement larger budgets.  We also need to focus the hiring of actual hackers for the government. This is a kind of warfare, so we need our weapons to protect and defend against theirs .  But there are certain things you can do as indiviudals . First, do not trust any emails you receive from your bank unless you were expecting it.  Second, verify anyone you give your information to.  Third, limit the amount f credit or debit cards you have online.  Try to segregate one card or two just for shopping on line.  Having too many cards online is not good.  It allows for the information to be stolen and there is that much more information out there that is yours.  As well be careful about paying bills online or paying for things online from multiple accounts.    Fourth, at gas stations and convenience stores use pay apps where there is major encryption and/or prepaid cards where there aren’t large credit lines that can be hacked or stolen.

Well there you have it everyone, our increase in online shopping and living has credited a whole new cottage industry of illegality and bad intentions.   Our information is sold on the Dark Web and used against us on a daily basis.  Not only do banks now have to worry about credit card fraud, which has been going on since credit cards were introduced, but now it is complete financial identity fraud.

One thing is for certain; we need to be more vigilant if we are to stop the criminals at their own game.

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