Skip to main content
Home » Digital Security » Here’s How Identity Theft Actually Works
Digital Security

Here’s How Identity Theft Actually Works

With data breaches like Target, Yahoo, and most recently Equifax, almost every person in the U.S. has been touched by the possibility of identity theft and fraud. The reason millions of records are compromised each year is because fraud is profitable with little risk of getting caught.

How we’re affected

“There are many ways fraud hurts all of us,” said Neal O’Farrell, executive director of the Identity Theft Council, who has focused on consumer identity theft for 20 years. “The annual cost of fraud is a little over $1 billion a month or $35 million every 24 hours,” he continued. “The second biggest cost is trust. The surge in identity theft in the last 20 years has completely changed trust in America. And the third cost affects victims directly. The emotional impact of identity theft has been likened to assault in the way it makes victims feel.”

O’Farrell found that people turn to cybercrime because it is lucrative, it doesn’t require any special skills or training, and there are crimes to fit all kinds of personalities.

Why fraudsters act

As a child, Brett Johnson and his siblings were often on their own to make their way in the world. They turned to shoplifting, but Johnson saw bigger opportunities.

“I began helping stage wrecks, or fake documents for claims, whatever needed to be done,” he explained. “My first foray into identity theft was stealing the identity of a high school classmate.  I told him that there was an error in his file and asked him to confirm his DOB and SSN. He gave them without hesitating.”

Identity theft has gotten easier since Johnson’s early years, thanks to the ability to network. “A new guy wanting to be a cybercriminal or identity thief can come to a cybercrime forum and immediately start making money.”

Think twice before turning to a life of cybercrime, the former fraudster advised. “Fraud hurts everyone.” It doesn’t end well for fraudsters, either. “Everyone I have ever known has ended up with nothing but prison time. They may have stolen a lot of money, but they lost everything” 

Sue Poremba, [email protected]

Next article