How Can an Identity Thief Get and Use Your Personal Digital Identity?

William G. Perry, Ph.D.

The scope of what is contained in an individual's personal digital identity must be understood. It contains all of the electronic data and information that has been input, processed and stored by you and about you. Usually the data is stored across wide-spread databases. The vast majority of your confidential information can be rapidly accessed and is inter-related. The ability to search, identify and combine the data is what makes computers a blessing and a curse.

An identity thief that has targeted you begins with a certain set of data. How complete that information is depends upon how careful you have been with your personal digital identity. Listed below are a number of resources an identity thief can check to review your personal digital identity:

1. Confidential information contained on your computer

Malicious users can conduct “port scans” on your computer to determine if entry can be gained into your computer. A successful intruder can install a “key-logger” and record everything you enter (passwords, bank account numbers, etc.) and gain access to additional information. The chances are that an invasion of this type would quickly allow a criminal to steal your identity.

2. Information that you freely give up on social media sites and share with others

Users of social media should shudder to consider the information being heaped into their personal digital identity. Friends and contacts can also share information about you without your knowledge. So it is possible that identity thieves can obtain large quantities of useful information about you without your being aware.

3. Commercial background checking organizations

Search the Internet for the phrase “background checks”. You’ll be amazed at the number of sites that allow individuals to conduct background checks. Examine the varied information that the companies can provide. These include: telephone numbers, address, place of work, marital status, age, sex, date of birth, the names of spouses and children and even the names of neighbors. They can also determine organization to which you belong.

Liens and judgments filed against you can be discovered checking public records. Real estate information (property owned and their values and taxes) and any businesses of record that you own are also available.

4. Commercial search engines that may contain personal information of which you might be unaware

Have you searched for yourself on the Internet? You might be amazed to learn how much is out there. If, however, you find very little there are numerous other ways ID thieves can obtain your private information, some of which are listed in this article.

5. “Cookies” placed on your computer

Cookies are small text files written to your computer to track your online movements. They can reveal your personal preferences and other information. Should that information fall into the wrong hands it could be used by identity thieves.

6. Discarding storage media without permanently erasing, degaussing or destroying it

Computer disks indefinitely retain the information that is written upon them. Many people sell or discard their old computers (or computing devices) believing that erasing the files means they are gone. Very little could be further from the truth. A skilled thief can restore deleted files. Identity thieves literally shop the Internet for used computers to obtain confidential records.

You should know that privacy for all of us is lost. Whatever “tidbit” or “morsel” of electronic information that exists about you can be accessed and cross-referenced with any other data set. Conduct your electronic life on the computer carefully. Making purchases on the Internet, social media and on-line banking all represent serious vulnerabilities.

© Alliant Digital Services, 2011

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