Friday, September 26, 2008

Frank Abagnale on Identity Theft: Technology Breeds Crime

Frank Abagnale

Casey Mayville writes on Government Technology:

In a keynote speech given yesterday at the Government Technology Conference East, Frank Abagnale poignantly addressed many of the security issues that government, businesses and the individual are faced with today. Abagnale -- whose life was the subject of the movie "Catch Me if You Can" -- spent the early part of his life living on fake identities and stolen cash. Now, however, Abagnale now lectures on the potential risks involved in everyday transactions. Writing a check, using a debit card, making purchases online or even withdrawing cash from an ATM are all actions that can put the individual at risk. And while the times have changed and technology has advanced, Abagnale claims that much has remained the same in the world of identity theft and fraud.

Because of public access laws and the necessity of open information, gathering basic data on a given person -- living or dead, young or old, rich or poor - -- is, as he puts it, easy as counting to one, two, three. "If you make it easy for people to steal from you, it is unfortunate, but people will," said Abagnale.

Since April of 2007, there have been 15 million victims of identity theft. That's one victim every four seconds. According to Abagnale, identity theft "is a crime limited only by the criminal's imagination." A new type of identity theft has presented itself as recently as 2008. It's called "Synthetic Identity Theft." By using this type of theft, criminals can remain virtually undetected until it is far too late to catch them. The method used is as follows: A criminal obtains an individual's personal data -- name, date of birth, Social Security number, etc. -- and proceeds to open a credit card.

But the criminal will purposefully change just one letter of the name or one digit of the Social Security number, knowing the credit bureaus have a "tolerance" feature built into their system which allows for human error when filling out applications. The credit card will be issued in the original individual's name, but under a secondary file. The criminal then has time to open more credit cards, build up credit, apply for a loan, default on the loan, and the individual is left to repair the damages.

More here.


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