26 Things An Identity Thief Won’t Tell You

Former identity thieves confess the tricks they use to scam you.

Interviewed by Michelle Crouch
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine September 2010

identity thief secrets1. Watch your back. In line at the grocery store, I’ll hold my phone like I’m looking at the screen and snap your card as you’re using it. Next thing you know, I’m ordering things online—on your dime.

2. That red flag tells the mail carrier—and me—that you have outgoing mail. And that can mean credit card numbers and checks I can reproduce.

3. Check your bank and credit card balances at least once a week. I can do a lot of damage in the 30 days between statements.

4. In Europe, credit cards have an embedded chip and require a PIN, which makes them a lot harder to hack. Here, I can duplicate the magnetic stripe technology with a $50 machine.

5. If a bill doesn’t show up when it’s supposed to, don’t breathe a sigh of relief. Start to wonder if your mail has been stolen.

6. That’s me driving through your neighborhood at 3 a.m. on trash day. I fill my trunk with bags of garbage from different houses, then sort later.

7. You throw away the darnedest things—preapproved credit card applications, old bills, expired credit cards, checking account deposit slips, and crumpled-up job or loan applications with all your personal information.

8. If you see something that looks like it doesn’t belong on the ATM or sticks out from the card slot, walk away. That’s the skimmer I attached to capture your card information and PIN.

9. Why don’t more of you call 888-5-OPTOUT to stop banks from sending you preapproved credit offers? You’re making it way too easy for me.

10. I use your credit cards all the time, and I never get asked for ID. A helpful hint: I’d never use a credit card with a picture on it.

11. I can call the electric company, pose as you, and say, “Hey, I thought I paid this bill. I can’t remember—did I use my Visa or MasterCard? Can you read me back that number?” I have to be in character, but it’s unbelievable what they’ll tell me.

12. Thanks for using your debit card instead of your credit card. Hackers are constantly breaking into retail databases, and debit cards give me direct access to your banking account.

13. Love that new credit card that showed up in your mailbox. If I can’t talk someone at your bank into activating it (and I usually can), I write down the number and put it back. After you’ve activated the card, I start using it.

14. My least-favorite credit card? American Express, because it likes to ask me for your zip code.

15. Your unlocked mailbox is a gold mine. I can steal your account numbers, use the convenience checks that come with your credit card statement, and send in pre-approved credit offers to get a card in your name. Stealing mail is easy. Sometimes, I act like I’m delivering flyers. Other times, I just stand there and riffle through it. If I don’t look suspicious, your neighbors just think I’m a friend picking up your mail.

16. Even with all the new technology, most of us still steal your information the old-fashioned way: by swiping your wallet or purse, going through your mail, or Dumpster diving.

17. I dig through Dumpsters in broad daylight. If anyone asks (and no one does), I just say my girlfriend lost her ring, or that I may have thrown my keys away by mistake.

18. One time I was on the run and needed a new identity so I went through a hospital Dumpster and found a statement with a Puerto Rican Social Security number for a Manuel Rivera. For a good two years after that, I was Manuel Rivera. I had his name on my apartment, on my paychecks and, of course, on my credit cards.

19. Is your Social Security number on your driver’s license or  your checks, or is it your account number for your health insurance? Dumb move.

20. When I send out e-mails “phishing” for personal information by posing as a bank or online merchant, I often target AOL customers. They just seem less computer literate—and more likely (I hope) to fall for my schemes.

21. I never use my home computer to buy something with a credit card that’s not mine. That’s why you can often find me at the public library.

22. If you use the same ATM every time, you’re a lot more likely to notice if something changes on the machine, like the skimmer I installed.

23. Sometimes I pose as a salesman and go into a small office. After I make my pitch, I ask the secretary to make me a copy. Since most women leave their purses on the floor by their chairs, as soon as they leave the room, I grab their wallet. I also check the top and bottom right-hand drawers of their desks, where I often find company checks.

24. How much is your information worth? I can buy stolen account information—your name, address, credit card number, and more—for $10 to $50 per account from hackers who advertise on more than a dozen black market web sites.

25. Hey, thanks for writing your PIN number on that little slip of paper in your wallet. I feel like I just won the lottery.

26. Sure, it may be nice not to have to put in your password when you use an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. But know this: We have software that can scoop up all the data your computer transmits, including your passwords and other sensitive information.

Sources: Former identity thieves in Kentucky, Florida, Indiana, Virginia, and New York.

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