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ID Thieves – How Did They Get My Information?

ID Thieves - How Did They Get My Information?


By: Jackie

ID Thieves – How Did They Get My Information?

Your BBB® receives numerous calls from consumers who have been targeted by scammers or who have been victims of credit card fraud. Invariably, they ask how these thieves obtained their information. These are some of the ways in which scammers and identity thieves get your information.

Social Media Sites

Thieves troll Facebook and Twitter looking for pieces of personal information they can use to get your address and to figure out your passwords. Knowing your address, they can submit a change of address form and have your mail sent to their P.O. box.

Since many people use names of pets and children, birthplace, DOB, street names, etc. for passwords, thieves can often guess your password from this information. Researchers discovered a formula that can figure out a person’s social security number just by date and place of birth. And once thieves have a person’s social security number, they can access your credit card, get a loan in the person’s name, get employment, get medical care, get prescriptions, etc.


Thieves create apps that seem like fun games, but when people download them, they install spyware which can capture their keystrokes and steal account numbers and other sensitive information. To avoid these sniffer apps, stick to apps from well-known companies and apps reviewed by computer experts. Do not click on pop-ups that advertise free apps.

WiFi Hot Spots

Using free public wireless Internet connections at airports, libraries, coffee shops, and other locations can put you at risk for thieves hacking into your computer using the same connections. If you can get on a network without a password, it means that your information is not encrypted. To protect your device, you might consider subscribing to a virtual private network (VPN) or using your cell phone’s 3G or 4G network.

Data Breaches

According to Wikipedia, “a data breach is a security incident in which sensitive, protected or confidential data is copied, transmitted, viewed, stolen or used by an individual unauthorized to do so. Data breaches may involve financial information such as credit card or bank details, personal health information (PHI), Personally Identifiable Information (PII), trade secrets of corporations or intellectual property.” The Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) reported that there were 1,093 data breaches in 2016 which was an all-time high. As an individual, you can investigate companies that are storing your data. Ask what security measures they have put in place to protect your data. Ask if your information is stored in an encrypted database. Find out if the company’s employees are trained in data security. You might consider using alternate forms of payment such as PayPal or Apple Pay or even cash rather than your credit or debit card.


According to Technopedia, hacking is unauthorized intrusion into a computer or a network. advises the following ways to prevent your information from being hacked:

ATM or Gas Pump Skimmers

These are physical devices that thieves attach to ATMs and gas pumps to steal debit and credit card numbers. Before using an ATM or gas pump payment device, examine the device to see if it is loose. Look for some obvious signs of tampering at the top of the ATM, near the speakers, the side of the screen, the card reader itself, and the keyboard. If something looks different, such as a different color or material, graphics that aren’t aligned correctly, or anything else that doesn’t look right, don’t use that ATM. Look at the ATM next to yours and compare them both.

Old-Fashioned Methods

And then there are the old-fashioned ways—employees stealing customer credit card or social security numbers, lost or stolen cards, dumpster diving, shoulder surfing (thief looks over your shoulder when you enter your PIN number), stealing mail from mailboxes.

If you are wondering how quickly thieves will find your information once a data breach occurs, the FTC recently researched this topic and wrote about it here.

We hope that by making you aware of all the ways your information can be stolen, you can better protect yourself. For more information you can trust about identity theft and other important topics, visit

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Jackie is the Operations and Education Foundation Assistant with the BBB. She assists consumers with business inquiries, and does presentations to senior groups and high school students. She is a regular contributor to the blog.