By the time you’ve read this sentence, three people will already have become victims of identity theft. Over $35,000 is stolen each minute of the day—more than enough for a college degree. In the last six years, over $112 billion has gone into the pockets of anonymous identity thieves. That amount of money could feed the entire world for a week. According to the 2015 Javelin’s ID Fraud survey, every one of us has either been an identity theft victim or knows someone who’s been one. And it’s getting worse.
Our lives keep getting busier, and we become more dependent on our technologies. But with each technological advancement comes the evolution of a new generation of thieves, each with a brilliantly orchestrated ruse. For the past fifteen years, identity theft crimes have been increasing, taking up more and more of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) resources, becoming its largest source of consumer complaints with more than one million new victims every thirty days. It’s estimated that over 10,000 criminals work together in theft rings, and depend on each other to feed their lifeblood of stolen consumer information. It’s a global crime that sends personal information across the globe to fraudsters in an instant. But most identity theft is surprisingly low tech and happens right under your nose.
Who are these thieves? A new documentary, In The Company of Thieves, steps into the darkness and reveals the stories of the people who commit these crimes. Once unmasked, it may come as a shock that behind each crime there is a human being who has spent decades creating a business that turns countless lives upside down.
A rare bird among criminals, many identity thieves don’t think what they’re doing is wrong. They’re addicted to beating the system. Like compulsive gamblers, they go for the win, the score—perfecting their craft with portable printers, tiny computers, cameras, and finding willing partners such as bartenders, cashiers, and store clerks to connect them to their prey. And most of them enjoy teaching each other how to do it.
So, how can you protect yourself? You have to think like a thief.
Keep your purse with you—on your person, always. Don’t hang it on the back of your chair in a restaurant or set it in your grocery basket while you shop. When pumping gas, lock all doors when you leave the car. Thieves have been caught on tape sneaking in from the opposite door to snatch a purse sitting on the seat while their victim is busy pumping gas.
Shred your garbage. “Dumpster Diving” is the favorite sport of identity thieves. Anything with your name on it should be put through a shredder. Look for good deals on shredders between the fall and spring tax season.
Use a P.O. Box for your mail. 80% of consumer fraud is from mail theft. Not only do resourceful thieves get easy access to information or steal checks, but they target mailboxes around tax time hunting for W2s to intercept tax refunds.
Guard your personal consumer data. Businesses are popular targets for their valuable customer financial records. Believe it or not, the most prevalent type of identity theft happens by phone. A hacker calls on the phone, imitates someone in a position of authority, and gradually pulls information from the victim. Look around and be extra cautious in busy shopping areas and airports when making purchases or using the ATM. Thieves love to “shoulder-surf”—obtain credit card numbers and PINs by looking over your shoulder as you complete a transaction.