Online Identity Theft Still a Worry, Despite Study’s Claims That ‘Old-Fashioned’ Fraud Bigger Concern


With all due respect to insurance company Travelers, its latest study on identity theft isn’t entirely accurate.

The results — based on what the company calls a “comprehensive study of 2011 Travelers claim data” — shows that even in the digital era, burglary, stolen wallets, and pilfered identifications account for 73% of all cases.

In the number-two spot was a stolen or compromised license, Social Security card, or other form of personal identification, according to the company’s 2011 claim data. Burglaries rated third, followed by cyber breaches (including Internet scams), and old-fashioned forgeries.

The Travelers statistics on identity fraud are broken down statistically as follows:

  • 73% — burglary and theft of wallet/purse/personal identification/computer
  • 15% — online or data breach
  • 10% — forgery
  • 2% — change of address/postal fraud

“People are not always aware that someone is illegally using their identity until suspicious activity appears on their monthly financial statement. It is critical that consumers closely review these monthly documents, and remember to immediately call the bank if they suspect fraudulent activity,” Joe Reynolds, identity fraud product manager at Travelers, explained in a statement.

Fact-Finding Mission

But is what Travelers saying true?

Check out this YouTube video produced by a website called Yes, the video mentions the Travelers study and laments that “old-fashioned methods” of identity theft are the biggest concern. It also mentions the recent ID Analytics study about 10,000 identity fraud rings in the United States.

But is most identity fraud really happening the “old-fashioned way” or not?

It’s so worthwhile to bring these issues to the forefront — the public has a right to know and it’s always helpful to spread that knowledge. Kudos to Travelers for bringing much of these serious issues to light. However, the study (and video above) is a little misleading since it alleges that a mere 15% of identity theft is caused by “online methods.”

We know this to be patently false, and we’re not alone. Check out the following information about the serious, consequential realities of online identity theft and online identity fraud:

  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) called identity theft its number-one problem in its annual “dirty dozen” list of tax scams. Scam artists tempt people in-person, online, and by email with misleading promises about lost refunds and free money. Scammers have been known to lure the unsuspecting with “phishing emails” that promise non-existent Social Security refunds or rebates. By sending an unsolicited email or link to a fake website that poses as a legitimate site, scammers lure in potential victims and prompt them to provide valuable personal and financial information. Armed with this information, a criminal can commit identity theft or financial theft.
  • The Department of Justice said cybercrime — including “botnet” networks and hacking — is a very serious threat. Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s criminal division said in a speech, “I don’t have to tell you that antivirus software is not the answer to our collective vulnerability to cybercrime. While antivirus software is critically important, it can only protect us from known vulnerabilities.  And criminals around the world are working every day to come up with new ways to attack our computers and networks.”
  • In October, security firm RSA warned of cybercriminals plotting a massive campaign to steal money from the online accounts of thousands of consumers at 30 or more major U.S. banks.
  • In 2011, more than 300,000 people lost $1.1 billion to cybercriminals, according to the FBI. And these are just the crimes that were reported.
  • Earlier this year the FBI arrested 24 people here and abroad in what they say is the largest-ever undercover operation targeting the global online trade of stolen credit card numbers. This operation started in June 2010 when the FBI established an undercover forum called Carder Profit, enabling the agents to monitor carding activity. During the course of the operation the FBI supplied credit card providers with details on 411,000 compromised cards, leading to an estimated savings of $205 million.
  • Also from the FBI files, nearly 304,000 Internet crime complaints in 2010 resulted in 1,420 cases and only six convictions. So for every 50,000 victims, one cybercriminal was convicted.
  • The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) called 2012 “an epic year” for security breaches, with 189 incidents during the first six months exposing a jaw-dropping 14 million records.

The Travelers study isn’t entirely wrong, per se. Certainly “old-fashioned” fraud methods still exist — of course they do. But the latest Traveler’s statistics seem skewed, especially when one analyzes the links and details above from agencies like the FBI, Justice Department, and ITRC.

Could it be that there exists a far greater percentage of identity theft victims but they aren’t yet aware they’ve been victimized? Worse, could some victims simply brush it off and not know who to turn to or how to report the crime?

Another theory is that not everyone has identity-theft insurance through a company like Travelers and therefore those figures aren’t accounted for in the study. The company’s “Identity Fraud Expense Coverage” is available as an endorsement on a homeowners policy for $25 annually and offers protection up to $25,000 per insured person. But here’s a critical point: although children and teens are very likely to be identity fraud victims, children do not typically carry insurance and in fact may not even be aware they’ve been victimized for many years.

Senior citizens, military personnel, even your next-door neighbor — all of these people also may not be aware that someone has stolen their identity until they go to file their tax return, apply for a driver’s license, or sign up for a new store credit card.

Supervisory Special Agent Donna Peterson once told the FBI’s Cyber Division about the following risks:

“Connecting to an unsecure network can leave you vulnerable to attacks from hackers. How do hackers grab your personal data out of thin air? One of the most common types of attack is this: a bogus but legitimate-looking WiFi network with a strong signal is strategically set up in a known hotspot…and the hacker waits for nearby laptops to connect to it. At that point, your computer—and all your sensitive information, including user ID, passwords, credit card numbers, etc.—basically belongs to the hacker. The intruder can mine your computer for valuable data, direct you to phony webpages that look like ones you frequent, and record your every keystroke.”

In other words, law enforcement can do little to stop Internet criminals. It really is up to us to use tools to protect our identity and security. Using a personal VPN like PRIVATE WiFi is the best way to completely protect yourself from these kinds of attacks, whether you are simply emailing, using a credit card to make a financial transaction, or managing your online banking accounts.

It’s also important to be careful when sharing personal information on social media, to shred old bills and financial statements, and to not disclose financial information, such as credit or bank account details, if you receive an unsolicited request.



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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.

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