Insider Identity Theft; A Growing Threat to Data Security

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With cyber-crimes and corporate data breaches in the news so often these days it's easy to think that identity theft is something that you only have to worry about if you have a lot of personal information published online. Unfortunately, this just isn't the case.  Personally identifying information including Social Security numbers, bank account info and other vital information can be stolen in a number of ways, many of which have nothing to do with hackers or the Internet.  Some of our data is stolen by individuals in positions of trust, including rogue employees who work in the very companies that handle or process your data.

Because so many people seem to think that simply monitoring their credit or online activity is all that is needed to avoid identity theft, the risks associated with insider data theft are often downplayed.  Employees or other 'insiders' who have access to your personal accounts and data are rarely viewed as a risk --but law enforcement officials across the country will tell you differently. This economic recession has taken its toll --leaving many struggling families desperate to find ways to get by. Desperate people do desperate things --and stealing data for profit, has become an increasingly popular crime of opportunity.  

Recent news reports confirm that stolen data comes from medical records, tax forms and even teacher certification records, protected by trusted employees and occasionally even business owners copying or stealing paperwork for use in the creation of fake IDs or other forms of fraud and identity theft.

One way in which insider identity theft uses the sensitive information stolen from individuals is the filing of false tax returns.The stolen information is used to create returns which are then filed with the IRS, with the refund from the returns being direct deposited into accounts that are linked with prepaid credit cards or other temporary financial solutions.

In some of these cases the information is stolen by workers at tax preparation offices, while in other cases such as that of Annette Ford the information was stolen by the business owners themselves.  Ford ran a registered check cashing and tax preparation service in Atlanta, Georgia, and was found to have stacks of tax paperwork, treasury certificates and other documents that she had used to steal over $170,000 from nearly 6,000 victims.  To make matters worse, before her arrest Ford's business had received very few complaints and appeared to be a fully legitimate operation.

Groups of identity thieves such as the gang recently busted in Miami Beach, Florida, pay employees to steal personal information such as names, addresses, birth-dates and Social Security numbers from an array of places -including hospital medical records. Police say gangs who usually focus on drugs or more violent crimes have set their sites on tax refund fraud. Police say they seized stacks of cash, two guns, piles of Wal-Mart prepaid money cards and notebooks filled with thousands of names, social security numbers and dates of birth of potential victims -some whom may still be unaware that their personal information has been compromised.

Not all of the thefts that occur in this manner are done to facilitate tax or credit card fraud, of course.  In Fort Lauderdale, Stephanie Knowles was arrested for receiving and processing stolen credit cards, driver's licenses and other personal info for use in the creation of new fake IDs --all for a national identity theft ring.  These fake IDs could then be used to obtain illegal employment, engage in criminal activity or apply for loans or credit which could later be abandoned and left up to the victim to sort out the mess. Before her arrest, Knowles was a respected member of the community who worked as a security guard and even served as counselor in a local school program; at the time of her arrest she had been receiving stolen IDs from as far away as Chicago as part of an organized crime ring which used burglary and other methods of theft to locate new ID cards to base fakes off of.

As you can see, today's types of identity theft are about far more than credit. And today's identity thieves have many faces. Don't minimize the time and effort it takes to restore your identity once it has been compromised.  Identity theft victims--like me--can tell you how long and weary the road back to your pre-theft self can be.

We lock our doors, we install smoke detectors, we install security alarms and we take vitamins and exercise, all designed to lessen our risk of various catastrophes. Why then shouldn't we do the same for our name, identity and very peace of mine? During these hard economic times that fuel the rising ID crime rates, we should not be complacent. Consider using ID theft protection and restoration services able to detect misuse of your data, alert you to suspicious activity and then be there to help if a problem occurs.

For more tips on how to protect yourself from identity theft see a few earlier blogs.
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