Get e-book How to Survive Identity Theft: Regain Your Money, Credit, and Reputation

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Major companies may have better security but can also be a more tempting target for potential hackers because of the wealth of information that could be retrieved if they were successful. Obviously, the attacks on Target, Anthem and Home Depot were a huge pay-off for the hackers and a catastrophic financial nightmare for the companies and, at minimum, a significant inconvenience for their customers. So how does personal information get out into dangerous territory?

Potential scammers send emails posing as a legitimate business that a person may or may not already be associated with i. A phishing email is usually recognizable because the sender is asking you to verify your information through a non-secure online source. This could be in the form of a merchant website online where the user thinks they are buying an item that they never receive and, instead, have their information stolen. Other times, the scammer will make a page that looks and acts just like a well-known or reputable bank or credit institution but with a slightly different web address.

The user trusts the site because it looks like a real one, enters their information, and never hears back from the site, only to find out that their information was stolen and misused. These companies are required by law to put into their terms and conditions that they are able to sell your information but very few people actually look into that information when filling out forms online. By selling that information to third parties, it opens people up to spam emails, mail, phone calls, and a whole host of other problems.

In recent years, major companies such as Google and Facebook have come under fire for these practices and it has becoming increasingly difficult to avoid your browsing history being exploited for market research and financial gain. IRobot, the company behind the automated vacuum Roomba, has recently courted controversy when details leaked that it may begin to sell the data gathered by higher end Roomba models in the process of cleaning a home. Roombas use these data about the location of furniture and household appliances to more effectively tidy up a room.

However, experts speculate that a Roomba would also be able to determine information about owners private lives based on lack of certain household items, or, for example, the presence of a baby chair in the living room, and sell it to advertisers who would be able to target people with alarmingly specific offers catered to their speculated needs.

Most commonly, a scammer will pose as a representative from a financial institution and tell the victim that they have had suspicious activity on their account and that they need to have the victim verify information. Another way your information can be compromised is by physical collection. Additionally, personal information can be acquired by dumpster diving or digging through trash to find anything that was discarded without being shredded.

Any acquisition of a physical piece of identification puts someone at risk. The thief can then use the knowledge in a very convincing phishing or phone scam. This type of scam seem far-fetched and highly unlikely, but it has been documented :. Through the years, I have been amazed at the things you can find in the trash.

There is big business for identity thieves in personal garbage. More importantly, once you put your garbage out on the street for trash pickup, it usually becomes open to the public. This means that if I am so inclined, I can take that garbage and bring it home, which is exactly what I did. I could use this information not only to gain access into their lives but, if I wanted, to take over their lives. Using the information I gained from the bills, I contacted the managers and explained that I was from that company. I told them that we were updating our services and that, for them to continue to have Internet service, they would be required to install updated software.

I explained that the software would be arriving within the next week. Because I was also able to reference their past billing information during the call, the victims never suspected a thing. One by one, the managers installed the software. Of course, the software they had just installed was actually malicious and designed specifically to allow me to access their computer via the Internet from anywhere in the world.

Shortly after they installed the software, I was on their computers going through all their files. There are a few warning signs that personal information is or could be compromised. If a red flag is raised, a lot of damage can be avoided. Even better, it can be used on any computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone via a downloadable desktop application or smartphone app. Because it can be embarrassing to admit that you have been scammed, often times and surprisingly victims will let their pride get the best of them and will not submit a report — this what a lot of scammers hope for.

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