In the Mind of a Criminal: How to Steal an Identity

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Is your soul larcenous, virtuous, or a mixture of both? Perhaps the best way to prevent becoming an identity theft statistic is to think like an identity thief does.

As the old saying goes, "It takes a thief to catch a thief." It's a good idea (and maybe even a little fun) to give yourself an identity theft audit of sorts and see yourself as a potential target. Identity monitoring services are very helpful and provide many different tools to combat identity theft, but prevention begins with you.

First, remember that thieves are risk-averse by nature and necessity, and they prefer targets who are soft and easy. Also, remember that a healthy dose of skepticism is also a very effective way to avoid becoming the victim of a scam artist. If someone is a little too helpful or something seems too good to be true, that person probably isn't being helpful at all, and that deal isn't good or true.

These are some of the more popular ways to steal an identity:

• Mailboxes and dumpsters
This is definitely the realm of soft and easy for identity thieves. Many like to steal unsolicited credit card applications and credit card statements right from a mailbox or dumpster. Then they simply fill out the helpful change of address so their victims never receive any reminders that their accounts are late or over their limits.

When paying bills and opening mail, think like a thief. A thief would love to get his or her hands on that credit card application or statement, so either save the statement for your records and shred the application, or feed them both to the shredder.

• Phishing
Thieves will "phish" for information in a variety of ways, such as phone calls, email, official-sounding robo-calls, and other methods where they might have some information, like a name and address, but not the information they really want, like a Social Security or credit card number. Usually, they'll say that they need just a little more information for their files or something like that. Think like a thief, add a dose of skepticism, and do not give out this information over the phone or in an email.

• Spoofing
Spoofing actually covers many different scams that generally involve official-looking emails or letters on what looks like company stationery. Spoofing thieves usually distract their victims by issuing stern warnings about the need to take immediate action, lest something bad happens. However, a skeptic's careful eye will notice that the email address is slightly off, referencing "" or "" instead of "," for example, or that there are misspellings in the letter. Think like a thief, and keep an eye out for decoys like this.

• Fake antivirus alerts
This relatively new scam nets a lot of victims. The victim will be surfing the net when an official-looking pop-up appears on the screen with an icon in the taskbar saying that the computer might be infected. It says that the person needs to buy and download this antivirus program right now to prevent further infection. The victim fills out the form, complete with his or her credit card information. Now the computer is even more infected, and the thief has the victim's personal and credit card information as well. Keep an eye out for this scam. If you've been diligent in keeping your firewall protections and antivirus software up-to-date, alerts like this should strike you as warning signals about the pop-ups themselves.

Identity thieves count on their victims' complacency, carelessness, and inattention to detail. To prevent becoming one of their victims, pay attention, be as careful as possible, and don't get complacent when it comes to securing personal information.

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