Profile of an Identity Thief: Debunking the Myths

Posted by Melanie Henson on Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Male, white, college-educated and a confirmed computer geek: you’ve heard a lot about the “average” ID thief. But do these characteristics constitute the majority? Not by a long shot, according to the latest reports. Read on for the scoop on who’s really out to take your identity–and how he (or she!) plans to do it.

Do I Know You?

Many people are surprised to learn that ID thieves aren’t always strangers. One common scamming method involves what is known as the “sweetheart scenario”. A new love (perhaps someone you’ve known for months or even longer) cries on your shoulder about an ill parent, a former abusive spouse or children living elsewhere who need funds that the “sweetheart” simply “can’t break into right now”…followed by a request that you float her for a month or two.

IMPORTANT: If you think you’re too smart to fall for this type of scam, consider that the perpetrator is often someone you already know or who has a mutual acquaintance with you, and is typically very practiced in the art of manipulation. Even ex-husbands or ex-wives have been known to initiate this type of criminal activity…and to do it successfully.

Business Partners That Aren’t

Another scenario develops when an acquaintance “accidentally” drops information about a new business he’s building. Before you know it, you’ve become interested in helping this sincere businessperson grow, probably as a partner.

Never give any information to a potential business partner without a lawyer of your choosing present. Glowing referrals of the potential partner’s past success or spotless reputation are no guarantee; studies show that more and more ID thieves are working in cooperation with others rather than going it alone. Your referral could have criminal intentions, too.

Good Old-Fashioned Thievery

Of course, there’s always the tried and all too frequently true method of stealing receipts. Usually, the thief will look in garbage receptacles at banks, the store or the gas station for discarded receipts. Many people also toss receipts onto the ground; this littering is then confiscated by the criminal.

From there, it’s easy to look up the cardholder’s phone number. The caller will state that she works for your bank or credit card company and that there has been some problem with your account (ironically, the reason given for calling is often potential theft of your identity!). You’ll then be asked for some key piece of information, usually on the reasoning that the bank can not begin investigation of this frightening crime otherwise.

If this happens to you, ask to set up an appointment to come in and speak about it. Also state that you will be calling the bank back in five minutes to continue the coversation. If the caller says that’s impossible, you now know for sure that it’s not your bank doing the calling.

TIP: immediately report the incident to your bank or credit card company. You never know whether the person will be gutsy enough to try once more, this time going directly to the source.

To Catch a Thief

If you still think you’d be able to spot a potential identity thief, consider the following true stories:

  • The Seattle Times reported this year on a mother-daughter scamming team; the daughter used her job at Bank of the West to funnel information to her mother, herself a real estate agent who ran her scams out of vacant homes.
  • According to The Billings Gazette, a 42-year-old man made cash advances and charges off nine credit card numbers–one belonging to his father.
  • In Green Bay, WI, a mother stole her daughter’s identity in order to enroll in high school and join the cheerleading team. She claimed she wished to earn her high school degree and to relive old times.

Be smart. Protect yourself, don’t throw away receipts until you’ve shredded them and for added protection, invest in an ID protection program that will help you keep your money–and your identification–to yourself.

Filed under Identity Theft

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