Let’s assume that you wanted to take up a new career as an identity thief. Why? Well, it’s lucrative.
Identity thieves simply pretend to be someone else, then open up credit cards and take out loans using the other person’s identity. One guy even took out a mortgage on someone else’s house and vamoosed with the money.
Second, it is easy. All you need is to find someone’s name, address, and Social Security number.
Third, it is safe. Only around 2% of identity thieves are ever caught. No wonder it is the fastest-growing crime in America!
Now, all you need is to decide how you are going to get the information on your victims. One popular method is the classic pick-pocketing. But that requires a fair amount of skill; besides, you’re likely to get caught with your fingers in someone else’s pocket. Somewhat better is “Dumpster diving,” which involves going through someone else’s garbage, looking for a scrap of paper with the right information. But that seems messy and time-consuming.
The Modern Pickpocket Thief
So, for my money – or should I say for your money – I would use a much more modern, efficient, and even enjoyable way to do it. I would take my laptop down to my local Starbucks, or any other wifi hotspot, download some readily available software, and hack into everyone’s Internet communications.
How? That’s easy. Remember that wifi signals are just radio waves. All you have to do is tune into the right “channel” and you can “listen” into everything that is being transmitted in that hotspot. Every laptop has the ability to do that – it just needs the right software.
After ordering my Venti latte and settling in at a table, I would start looking through the traffic for Social Security numbers and other data being sent back and forth. I would be seeking something specific, so I might get my local computer geek to write a little program for me to automate the search. I would tell him to look for something that had the form of three digits, then a dash, then two digits, another dash, and ending in four digits, which would almost surely be a Social Security number.
Another Slick Approach
Most financial websites protect their communication with something called HTTPS (note the “s” at the end of “http” stands for secure). But say I noticed that some customer logged in to a non-secured site, using his email address and password. Then he went over to his bank’s site and logged in there. I probably could not actually see his login information, but I could probably guess it — most of us use the same logins wherever possible, otherwise we would drive ourselves crazy.
I’m now into your bank account before my latte is even half gone.
For me, the biggest risk would be caffeine jitters. For you, it will be a major hassle. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC), it will probably take you four-to-six months to straighten out your debts that I ran up, with 330 hours of talking to credit card companies and the like, and cost you around $1,000 out of pocket.
There were 11 million identity theft victims in 2009, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. Interestingly, the Department of Justice found that higher income (above $70K) people were more likely to be victims than lower income.
And the costs to society are huge: $54 billion in the United States in 2009, according to Javelin, and $221 billion world-wide, according to the Aberdeen Group.
So back to our thief, now on his second cup at Starbucks. The only way to stop him is to protect all your wifi communication with encryption, using Virtual Private Network (VPN). That’s what all the spooks do, and all large companies provide VPNs for their employees who travel. We think our PRIVATE WiFi™ product is easy to use, certainly effective, and affordable.
Working Together With ITRC
We believe that people need to become aware of the dangers of hotspot hacking — after all, that is a leading source of identity theft. That is why our company, Private Communications Corporation, has partnered with the Identity Theft Resource Center. We will work together to help spread information about this high-tech form of Dumpster diving. We are a proud sponsor of the ITRC, and we will be donating discounted services to their victims.
The ITRC is a nonprofit organization, and it has a lot of resources for identity-theft victims – and for those who want to avoid becoming identity-theft victims. Check out the ITRC’s website and look through the catalog of information the organization makes available.
Stay tuned to our blog for more details about our work with the ITRC. I will be announcing even more news and helpful resources in the weeks and months ahead.