The problem with identity theft is that almost anyone can do it and American consumers don't protect themselves enough from being a victim, says author Steve Weisman.
Steve Weisman is an expert on identity theft, a lawyer who specializes in identity theft. But at one point in his life, he worked as a lawyer for prisoners at a federal penitentiary.
Talking to a long-term prisoner who was placed into the correctional system for being a con man, taking advantage of the kindness or ignorance of others. And he did it without the use of computers.
“He decried the fact that in his day it took talent to be a counterfeiter or scammer,’’ Weisman said. “Now, anyone with a computer can be an identity thief from anywhere without any talent.”
In an interview with Millionaire Corner, Weisman explained one of the dangers of identity theft is that it is an easy crime to commit, and Americans make it easier for them to do their evil.
“They are everybody,’’ said Weisman, author of Identity Theft Alert, a new book published by Pearson Education Inc. “It can be the computer nerd down the street, it could be organized crime in the United States, it could be organized crime in a foreign country, it can be terrorist groups. Everybody is doing it.”
How they operate is simple if you know what you are doing with a computer. Thieves attach malware, software designed for a secretive purpose, to otherwise innocent internet processes like web page searches or video links. They can make emails appear as if they are coming from legitimate sources, including your best friends, and they can “phish’’ for private data that way to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of email addresses instantaneously.
“You can’t trust anyone anywhere,’’ Weisman said. “Even if you get an email that appears to come from a trusted source, it could be that their email has been hacked. You never click on a link from anywhere until you have verified it is legitimate.”
There is information most Americans already have on line that is significant, such as home address and date of birth. But the numbers most often desired by identity thieves is a social security number, and Weisman says don’t give up those digits unless you absolutely must.
”If I get your social security number, I can take over your life; limit that as much as possible,’’ Weisman said. “Places will ask for it that don’t need it. When they ask me, I ask them ‘Can I give you my driver’s license instead?’ Most of the time if you ask them, they will let you give them something else.”
Weisman also says it is impossible to completely protect yourself from identity theft, but it is possible to make yourself less likely to be attacked.
“Don’t give your social security number online, don’t click on links, don’t do attachments, and keep your security software up to date,’’ Weisman said.
Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for www.nba.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.
In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.
McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.
McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy Buffett and all things Disney.